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Major Film Planned About Todd Willingham

By , August 9, 2017

From Deadline.com

Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern have been set to star in Trial by Fire, a fact-based drama that Ed Zwick will direct. Oscar-winning Precious scribe Geoffrey Fletcher wrote the script, adapted from the 2009 article in The New Yorker that won David Grann the Polk Award. Zwick will produce through his Bedford Falls banner with Flashlight Films’ Allyn Stewart & Kipp Nelson, and Alex Soros, the latter of whom is financing. Production is set to begin October 2 in Atlanta. Kathryn Dean and Marshall Herskovitz are exec producing and film sales will be represented by Cinetic Media and CAA.

O’Connell stars as Cameron Todd Willingham, a poor, uneducated heavy metal devotee with a violent streak and a criminal record. Convicted of triple homicide in the arson deaths of his three small children, Willingham spent 12 years on death row. Dern co-stars as Elizabeth Gilbert, a Texas housewife who forms an unlikely bond with Willingham and, though facing staggering odds, fights magnificently for his freedom on the basis he was wrongly convicted.

 Zwick said he and Stewart separately chased Grann’s story when it was published eight years ago and decided to team. It has been an uphill battle to get this one made, but a number of elements came together all at the right time. “From the moment I read David’s brilliant reporting eight years ago, I have been possessed by this deeply moving, true story of injustice,” Zwick told Deadline. “David Grann has been one of these caught-in-the-roller-of-his-typewriter guys, quietly doing great work, and now all these wonderful things are happening with his stories being made into movies, from Killers of the Flower Moon to the Robert Redford piece Old Man and the Gun. The story was all there, with these two compelling characters. It is a remarkable story about people. Not just capital punishment but justice, which is a very important word right now. It has to have that pull to keep you pushing it up the hill this many years.”

I asked Zwick why it took so long. “You’ve heard the story at the end of the year from everyone who gets up on that podium and talks about how hard it is,” he said. “The good ones just take longer. I’ve been lucky enough to make movies I care about, and they become increasingly smaller targets that you hit at greater distances. Every year a couple manage to get through that crucible, but it’s harder and harder. We got close a couple of times, but it came down to not being able to get the right actor or financier. Ten years ago, after I completed Blood Diamond, I got involved with Global Witness, an organization that was very good to me. They asked would I go on the board, and it was there that I met Alex Soros. We sat working together for this organization for 10 years; he’s not in the film business, but he followed my travails in trying to get this movie made. Finally, he said maybe I could get involved with you to do this.”

Stewart, who with Nelson produced Sully, called Trial by Fire “more than a provocative account of prosecutorial abuse, an incredibly emotional story about how a single act of kindness can change two lives forever.”

Read the rest on Deadline.com

Trial Starts to Determine if Todd Willingham’s Prosecutor Hid Evidence

By , April 29, 2017

Todd WillinghamFrom the Corsicana Daily Sun, Trial of prosecutor rekindles death row ashes:

John Jackson helped send Cameron Todd Willingham to death row, but on Monday, lawyers began screening a jury to decide if he hid evidence that could have spared Willingham.

“It’s the perfect storm of a case at this time when interest in exonerations is sweeping the country,” said Houston criminal-defense attorney John Floyd. “It’s in the very top of these exoneration cases.”

The civil judicial-misconduct trial will take place in the Navarro County Courthouse where Jackson, then an assistant district attorney, in 1992 persuaded jurors to find Willingham guilty of capital murder for torching the Corsicana home in which his three young daughters died.

The adequacy of the arson evidence in Willingham’s high-profile trial was the subject of several critical investigations after the conviction.

But it’s the circumstances surrounding a purported jailhouse confession that prompted the New York-based Innocence Project to file a grievance against Jackson with the state bar association’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline.

According to the grievance, “… Jackson illegally and unethically made an undisclosed deal” with Willingham’s fellow inmate, Johnny E. Webb, to grant Webb a series of favors in return for testifying that Willingham confessed to the crime.

Webb subsequently recanted the testimony of Willingham’s alleged confession to setting the blaze in which his daughters died.

The Innocence Project has submitted an interview with Webb, “recorded in the presence of his current counsel, which supplements and corroborates the documentary record showing Jackson’s misconduct,” according to its grievance.

According to the bar commission’s petition, Jackson knew “before, during and after the 1992 trial … of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel.”

Moreover, “(Jackson) failed to make timely disclosure to the defense details of an agreement for favorable treatment for Webb, an inmate, in exchange for Webb’s testimony at trial for the state,” according to the petition.

Before the trial, Jackson also said he had no evidence favorable to Willingham, who was executed in 2004, according to the petition.

Jackson, who went on to become a district judge, also worked to have Webb’s conviction changed from aggravated robbery to robbery, and requested early parole for Webb with the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the bar alleged.

Jackson signed warrants for Webb so he would be transferred from prison to the Navarro County jail.

Read the rest of the article at the Corsicana Daily Sun.

Remember Todd Willingham: Attend the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty Monday, April 17, 2017

By , April 10, 2017

The 2017 Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty will be held Monday, April 17, 2017, when the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence will hold a hearing on the bills to abolish the death penalty and the bill to ban executions in law of parties cases.


More details to come soon, including a meeting room and time in the capitol.

We are raising funds so that we can bring some death row exonerees to the Capitol in Austin to participate in the lobby day and to testify at the committee hearing. Please donate to help us bring the exonerees to lobby day.

People from across Texas will come to the Capitol in Austin on Lobby Day to advocate for three bills to abolish the death penalty in Texas (HB 64 filed by State Rep Harold Dutton and HB 1537 by State Rep Jessica Farrar, as well SB 597 filed by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr).

We will also lobby for bills that would prohibit death sentences for people convicted under the Law of Parties even though they did not kill anyone (HB 147 by Rep Dutton and HB 316 by Rep Terry Canales). Last summer, Jeff Wood’s scheduled execution under the law of parties was stayed shortly before his scheduled execution. Many legislators spoke out to support clemency for Jeff Wood, because he did not kill anyone. Now, is our chance to pass a bill to prohibit executions under the law of parties.

In the past, our Lobby Day has resulted in several legislators signing on to support the bills we lobbied for. In 2015 we visited the office of Senator Eddie Lucio Jr and asked him to file a bill to abolish the death penalty. He filed his abolition bill two weeks later.

As we do every session, we are calling this the “Day of Innocence” at the capitol. Special guests will include people who were sentenced to death and later exonerated. We will announce who will come soon.

We will visit legislative offices and ask legislators to support abolishing the death penalty. We will hold a press conference at noon. We will also attend the committee hearing starting at 2 PM and testify in support of the bills. Anyone can sign up to testify or you can just sign in as a supporter of the bills without testifying. You can submit written testimony or deliver your testimony verbally in front of the committee members.

This will be a day we will always remember, a day when we stand side by side with innocent people who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death and side-by-side with family members of people sentenced to death under the law of parties.

Please be sure to dress professionally.


The Statewide Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty has been organized since 2003 by several organizations working together: Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty, and Students Against the Death Penalty.

Organizations that would like to participate or co-sponsor the lobby day can contact any of the above mentioned organizations.

Help Texas Man Set for Execution Under Law of Parties – Jeff Wood Did Not Kill Anyone

By , June 22, 2016

Jeff Wood’s sister Terri Been and 2 death row exonerees at Texas Capitol

Jeff Wood is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 24, 2016 under the law of parties even though he did not kill anyone. We need to persuade the Texas governor and members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Jeff’s death sentence. I have known Jeff’s family for many years. His sister Terri Been is leading the effort to #savejeffwood. She has testified to the Texas Legislature to ban executions under the Law of Parties and spoken out many times to save her brother from an unjust execution.

We created a petition to David G. Gutiérrez, Chair, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott, which says:

“We are petitioning to save Jeff Wood from unjustly being put to death by the state of Texas on August 24, 2016 for a murder he did not commit. Jeff was charged under the controversial Law of Parties. He was not the shooter in this crime, nor was he even in the building when the shooting took place. This unjust law states that even though a co-defendant may not have killed anyone, he can still face the death penalty, because of the actions of another person.

The actual shooter in this case, Daniel Reneau, has already been executed by the state of Texas.”

Three things to do:

1) Will you sign our petition? Click here to add your name.

 2) You can also donate to the clemency campaign. We have about two months to move the public, the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and we need about $1,000 for the clemency campaign.

3) Attend the rally July 23 at the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin.

On July 23, we will hold a rally at the Texas Governor’s Mansion.

In 2009, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would have banned executions of people convicted under the law of parties. The bill died in the Senate. It will be introduced again in the next legislative session in January 2017.

Jeff’s case is similar to Kenneth Foster’s, whose death sentence was commuted in 2007 by Governor Rick Perry after many people wrote clemency letters and more than 17,000 people signed a petition urging Perry to commute the death sentence, since Foster had not killed anyone. He was sentenced under the law of parties.

There have been only ten executions in the U.S. of people convicted under law of parties statutes. Five of those people were executed in Texas.

Terri Been wrote on Facebook:

I humbly ask you to help my family by taking a few minutes of your time to read a few facts regarding Jeff’s case and to sign his petition that we will be sending the governor! While you are on Jeff’s Web Page, I also ask that you take an extra minute or two to look at the other information we have in the how you can help section. For those of you who are familiar with Kenneth Foster’s case (which is very similar to Jeff’s case) it took their family over 17,000 messages to the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to get his sentence commuted to Life. This was accomplished by sending petitions, faxes, letters, and by making phone calls. I am eternally grateful for every single signature, but I need more. I need calls, letters and faxes to go along with the petition signatures.

I humbly ask that you help my family. Jeff is my baby brother and he did not kill anybody! Please ask yourselves what you would do if you were in my situation. What lengths would you go to if this was your family member?

Short case summary: At approximately 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1996, while Wood waited outside, Reneau entered the gas station with a gun and pointed it at Kris Keeran, the clerk standing behind the counter. Reneau ordered him to a back room. When he did not move quickly enough, Reneau fired one shot with a 22 caliber handgun that struck Keeran between the eyes. Death was almost instantaneous. Proceeding with the robbery, Reneau went into the back office and took a safe. When hearing the shot, Wood got out of the car to see what was going on. He walked by the door and looked through the glass. Then he went inside, and he looked over the counter and ran to the back, where Reneau was. Wood was then ordered, at gun point by Reneau, to get the surveillance video and to drive the getaway-car. Terri also had to buy instagram followers so his massage would go viral.

Sign the petition, please.

Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court applied the proportionality principle to conclude that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for a felony murderer who was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life.

If it goes to the Court again in the Wood case, they should be asked to find that enough change has occurred in public opinion since 1987 that there is now a national consensus that the death penalty should be banned in law of parties cases.

#6 of Top Ten Texas Death Penalty Stories of 2015: State Bar of Texas Accuses Willingham’s Prosecutor John Jackson of Misconduct

By , January 3, 2016

As 2015 draws to a close Texas Moratorium Network looks back on the top Texas death penalty news stories of the year. Each day, we will update this post with another Texas death penalty news story that broke in 2015. They will continue to post the list of ten top Texas death penalty news stories each day until they reach number one. See full list here.

John Jackson, the prosecutor in the 1992 trial of Cameron Todd Willingham, poses for a photo on Oct. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, W. Gardner Selby) AUSTIN CHRONICLE OUT, COMMUNITY IMPACT OUT, INTERNET MUST CREDIT PHOTOGRAPHER AND STATESMAN.COM

John Jackson, the prosecutor in the 1992 trial of Cameron Todd Willingham, poses for a photo on Oct. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, W. Gardner Selby)

6) Todd Willingham’s prosecutor John Jackson was accused of misconduct that led to wrongful conviction and execution of innocent man. In a major turn in one of the country’s most-noted death penalty cases, the State Bar of Texas on March 5 filed a formal accusation of misconduct against John Jackson, the county prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters. The Marshall Project reported that “following a preliminary inquiry that began last summer, the bar this month filed a disciplinary petition in Navarro County District Court accusing the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, of obstruction of justice, making false statements and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense.” It accuses Jackson of having intervened repeatedly to help a jailhouse informant, Johnny E. Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham confessed the murders to him while they were both jailed in Corsicana, the Navarro county seat.

150319_JURIS_CameronToddWillingham.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

Todd Willingham

New evidence emerged that indicates that a key prosecution witness testified in  return for a secret promise to have his own criminal sentence reduced. “In a  previously undisclosed letter that the witness, Johnny E. Webb, wrote from prison  in 1996, he urged the lead prosecutor in Willingham’s case to make good on what  Webb described as an earlier promise to downgrade his conviction. Webb also  hinted that he might make his complaint public, reported the Washington Post.

 

 

Todd Willingham to Have Presence at 16th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Oct 24, 2015

By , October 16, 2015

Five exonerated death row survivors will lead the 16th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24, 2015 at the Texas Capitol at 2 PM: Alfred Dewayne Brown, Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham, Sabrina Butler, and Gary Drinkard. Come to the march and hear how the death penalty puts innocent people at risk of execution.

In addition to these five living, breathing survivors of death row, some people at the march will carry photos of Cameron Todd Willingham, an innocent person executed by the State of Texas in 2004.

Alfred Dewayne Brown

Alfred Dewayne BrownAlfred Dewayne Brown was released on June 8, 2015 after more than 10 years on Texas Death Row for a crime he did not commit. This will be Dewayne’s first time to participate in a march to abolish the death penalty. Come to the march and welcome him back to freedom with a warm collective embrace.

Ron Keine

Ron KeineRon Keine is an Assistant Director of Membership and Training for Witness to Innocence. Ron was one of four men convicted of the murder, kidnapping, sodomy, and rape of a University of New Mexico student in 1974. He and his co-defendants were sentenced to death, before an investigation by The Detroit News uncovered a bizarre campaign by prosecutors to coerce testimony from a motel maid named Judy Weyer, whom they wanted to be their star witness.

After prosecutors reneged on all their promises to Weyer, she fully retracted her story in a set of taped newspaper interviews. The story broke in January 1975, and a hearing for a new trial was held. Unbelievably, the judge refused to grant a new trial, and then the taped interviews with Judy Weyer mysteriously disappeared. Ron and his co-defendants remained on death row.

Ron was finally released in 1976, after the murder weapon was traced to a law enforcement officer who admitted to the killing.

Shujaa Graham

Shujaa GrahamShujaa Graham was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana, and grew up on a plantation in the segregated South of the 1950s. After moving to Southern California, Shujaa experienced the Watts Riots and police occupation of his community. In and out of trouble, he spent much of his adolescence in juvenile institutions, and when he turned 18 he was sent to Soledad Prison.

Within prison walls, Shujaa came of age, taught himself to read and write, and studied history and world affairs, mentored by the leadership of the Black Prison movement. He became a leader of the growing movement within the California prison system, as the Black Panther Party expanded in the community.

But then Shujaa was framed for the 1973 murder of a prison guard at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Stockton, California, and was sent to San Quentin’s death row. Because the district attorney had systematically excluded all African-American jurors, the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence in 1979. Yet it wasn’t until 1981 that he was found innocent and released from prison. Rather than being protected by the United States’ criminal justice system, Shujaa often points out that he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence “in spite of the system.”

Shujaa lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, with his partner, Phyllis Prentice, and both are active members of Witness to Innocence’s Board of Directors. Shujaa gives lectures on the death penalty, the criminal justice system, racism, and gang violence to people around the world. Not surprisingly, one of Shujaa’s favorite audiences is American youth. “I’m filled with ideals for a better future,” he says. “I may never enjoy the fruits of this labor, but our children will.”

Sabrina Butler

Sabrina ButlerSabrina Butler was a Mississippi teenager who was convicted of murder and child abuse in the death of her nine-month-old son, Walter. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing. She is the only woman in the United States exonerated from death row.

On April 12, 1989, teenage mother Sabrina rushed Walter to the hospital after he suddenly stopped breathing. Doctors had attempted to resuscitate the child for thirty minutes, but failed, and Sabrina’s baby died the next day. The very day of her son’s death, Sabrina was arrested for child abuse due to the bruises left by her resuscitation attempts.

Sabrina’s murder trial commenced in March 1990. At the trial, prosecutors sought to prove that Sabrina’s account of the events leading to her son’s death were false, and that she had inflicted the fatal wounds intentionally. Sabrina did not testify at her trial, and was convicted of both murder and child abuse, becoming the only woman on Mississippi’s Death Row at the time.

Following her conviction, Sabrina filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The courts reversed and remanded her convictions in August 1992, declaring that the prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was anything more than an accident.

In 1995, Sabrina’s case went to retrial. At the trial, one of Sabrina’s neighbors had come forward with evidence that corroborated her account that the injuries to her son occurred during the course of an unsuccessful attempt to administer CPR. In addition, the medical examiner changed his opinion about Walter’s cause of death, which he now believed occurred due to a kidney malady. On December 17, 1995, Sabrina was exonerated after spending more than five years in prison and 33 months on death row.

Today, Sabrina still lives in the same town where she was convicted, with her husband Joe Porter and three children. She speaks as often as she can to the public and media about her heartbreaking and moving story, and has recently published a memoir, The Sabrina Butler Story. You can order a copy of Sabrina’s book here: sabrinabutler.webs.com

Gary Drinkard

Gary DrinkardGary Drinkard spent close to six years on Alabama’s death row before being exonerated in 2001. He was sentenced to death in 1995 for the robbery and murder of a 65-year-old automotive junk dealer in Decatur, Alabama. Unable to afford an attorney, he was assigned two lawyers with no experience trying criminal cases. Despite being at home at the time of the murders and suffering from a debilitating back injury, Gary was convicted and sentenced to death.

Yet Gary maintained his innocence, barely believing his sentence. Amazingly, the conviction rested primarily on testimony by Gary’s half-sister and her common-law husband, both facing charges for unrelated crimes. In exchange for testifying, all the charges against Gary’s half-sister were dismissed.

In 2000, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct, and with the help of the Southern Center for Human Rights, Gary won an acquittal in 2001. The Center later represented Gary before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee to illustrate the urgent need for competent lawyers for those facing the death penalty.

“The system is broken,” he says. “I don’t think the death penalty is appropriate for anyone. God is the only one who has the right to take a life.”

Today, Gary lives and works in Alabama, and is active in the movement to abolish the death penalty. He enjoys speaking to audiences of all kinds, from colleges to churches.

Witness to Innocence

Witness to Innocence is the nation’s only organization dedicated to empowering exonerated death row survivors to be the most powerful and effective voice in the struggle to end the death penalty in the United States. Through public speaking, testifying in state legislatures, media work, and active participation in our nation’s cultural life, our members are helping to end the death penalty by educating the public about innocence and wrongful convictions. WTI also provides an essential network of peer support for the exonerated, most of whom received no compensation or access to reentry services when released from death row.

Todd Willingham

toddwillingham

Todd Willingham was an innocent person executed by the State of Texas in 2004.

Donate to Help Texas Death Row Survivor Alfred Dewayne Brown

By , June 23, 2015

donatetodewaynebrownAfter more than ten years on Texas death row for a crime he did not commit, Alfred Dewayne Brown walked free and into the loving arms of his family and friends on June 8, 2015. “I went in an innocent man and I came out an innocent man,” said Brown. Now, he needs your help so that he can rebuild his life. Can you please help him?

Donate to Help Texas Death Row Survivor Alfred Dewayne Brown.

Together with other friends, we have created a fundraising campaign for Dewayne on Indidgogo. In 2004, we conducted a fundraising campaign for Ernest Willis when he was released from Texas death row. We raised $1,000 for Ernest. In 2010, we conducted a campaign to raise funds to help Anthony Graves. We raised $3,500 for Anthony. Now, we are setting a goal of $5,000 to raise for Alfred Dewayne Brown.

Click to donate. Everything donation gets us closer to making Dewayne’s transition from death row to freedom a little easier.

Dewayne spent 12 years, 2 months and 5 days behind bars for something he had no part in. That is 4,449 days or 106,776 hours of his life that was stolen from him. Nearly every one of those days were spent in solitary in a cell no larger that a small bathroom. Living with the fact that he could be executed any day. Torn away from his family, not being able to be a father to his daughter. For this, the State of Texas needs to compensate Dewayne. But, because of the “clever” wording in the paperwork when Devon Anderson declared that Harris County has no evidence against Dewayne, it will be an uphill battle to win compensation. A battle that will not be won any time soon.

Click to donate.

This is where the people of the world come in. Dewayne needs your help now to get on his feet. He needs to rebuild his life that Harris County and the State of Texas stripped from him. Going straight from solitary to the “free world” is no easy task. He needs time to adjust being able to make decisions on his own, at a pace that is comfortable to him. We can never give these years back to Dewayne. But, we can help him manage more comfortably. Please give what you can. Everything makes a difference.

Read more about the day Dewayne was released here.

This fundraiser is being conducted with the consent of Dewayne Brown, who will receive all funds raised, minus the 3 percent charged by the credit card processing company. We have also obtained consent from Dewayne’s legal team. While Indiegogo Life doesn’t charge a fee, payments are handled by third-party processors who charge a 3% transaction fee.

At the end of the 30 day campaign, the donations will be transferred directly from the life.indiegogo.com system to a bank account set up by Dewayne’s legal team for his exclusive benefit.

The fundraiser organizers are a group of Texas death penalty abolitionists who want to help Dewayne. Organizers include Pat Hartwell, Scott Cobb, Hooman Hedayati, Gloria Rubac, and Delia Perez Meyer, as well as the organizations Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and others to be listed as they endorse the fundraiser.

Hearing on Rep Dutton’s Bill to Abolish the Texas Death Penalty April 29, 2015

By , April 24, 2015

dutton2 (1)Rep. Harold Dutton’s HB 1032, a bill to abolish the death penalty in Texas, is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The meeting room is E2.030. The hearing starts at 10:30 AM or upon adjournment of the Texas House of Representatives.

On the same day, the committee will also hear testimony on Dutton’s bill to ban the death penalty in law of parties cases, HB 341.

Anyone can attend the hearing and sign in to support the bills or even sign up to speak in support of the bills. You can also provide written testimony.

The order of the bills being heard is not known, so you should plan to spend time waiting in the committee room for the bills to be called up.

Rep Dutton first filed a bill to abolish the death penalty in 2003, which was the first abolition bill filed in the Texas Legislature in a long time up to that year. When no one else was willing to file a bill to abolish the death penalty, Rep Dutton stepped up in 2003 and filed an abolition bill. Everyone opposed to the death penalty should thank Rep Dutton for his leading role in the effort in the Texas Legislature to end the death penalty.

Willingham’s Prosecutor Subject of Formal Accusations of Misconduct

By , March 18, 2015

Prosecutor Accused of Misconduct in TX Execution Case

In a major turn in one of the country’s most-noted death penalty cases, the State Bar of Texas has filed a formal accusation of misconduct against the county prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters.

Following a preliminary inquiry that began last summer, the bar this month filed a disciplinary petition in Navarro County District Court accusing the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, of obstruction of justice, making false statements and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense.

“Before, during, and after the 1992 trial, [Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel,” the bar investigators charged.

The bar action was filed Mar. 5 without any public announcement. It accuses Jackson of having intervened repeatedly to help a jailhouse informant, Johnny E. Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham confessed the murders to him while they were both jailed in Corsicana, the Navarro county seat.

Webb has since recanted that testimony. In a series of recent interviews, he told the Marshall Project that Jackson coerced him to lie, threatening a long prison term for a robbery Webb was accused of committing but promising to reduce his sentence if he testified against Willingham.

Jackson has repeatedly denied that he made any pre-trial agreement with Webb in exchange for his testimony. The former prosecutor acknowledged that he and others made extraordinary efforts to help Webb, but said they were motivated only by concern for a witness who had been threatened by other prisoners because of his testimony.

A lawyer for Jackson, Joseph E. Byrne, on Wednesday urged that people withhold judgment about the case until all the evidence was presented and took issue with the grievance filed against his client by the Innocence Project, a legal advocacy group.

“I disagree with much of the information that was put together by the Innocence Project and do not find it to be objective,” Byrne said.

From the time of the house fire that killed his children on Dec. 23, 1991, Willingham maintained his innocence. He said he awoke from a nap to find his home engulfed in smoke and flames, and that he could not locate the three toddlers before stumbling outside to seek help. Texas fire examiners concluded that the blaze was an arson, and Jackson later said it was “very likely” that Willingham had poured some accelerant on the floor in the shape of a pentagram, apparently as a symbol of Satanic worship.

Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004, after Gov. Rick Perry refused to grant a stay requested by Willingham’s lawyers on the basis of a report by an independent arson expert who concluded there was no evidence the fire was intentionally set. Perry later called Willingham “a monster.”

Relatives and supporters of Willingham have long sought his vindication but have been frustrated by both the courts and the state government. The Innocence Project, which has investigated the case for a decade, sought a posthumous pardon for Willingham and to have his case re-heard by a court of inquiry. Both efforts were unsuccessful.

In July, the group filed a grievance with the Texas bar accusing Jackson of conduct that “violated his professional, ethical and constitutional obligations” in his handling of the case. That complaint was the basis for the disciplinary petition filed on Mar. 5.

Told of the state bar’s action, Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia, said, “John Jackson committed a crime, and I want him punished. If the appeals court had known the truth, Todd would probably be alive today.”

A staff attorney for the Innocence Project, Bryce Benjet, said the group was encouraged by the bar’s disciplinary action. “Withholding exculpatory evidence and the presentation of false testimony in a death penalty case is quite possibly the most serious ethical breach for a lawyer you can imagine,” he said.

The disciplinary petition contends that “Jackson failed to make timely disclosure to the defense details for favorable treatment for Webb, an inmate, in exchange for Webb’s testimony at trial for the state.”

“During a pre-trial hearing on July 24, 1992, (Jackson) told the trial court that he had no evidence favorable to Willingham,” the complaint continues. “That statement was false.”

The Marshall Project disclosed earlier this month the existence of a letter sent by Webb to Jackson in 1996 asking Jackson to comply with what he called their “agreement” to reduce his judgment from aggravated robbery to robbery. Within a few weeks, Jackson obtained a court order that reduced the charge.

The petition accuses Jackson of obtaining favorable treatment for Webb that included telling the Navarro County Clerk’s Office to inform the Texas Department of Corrections that Webb was convicted of robbery instead of aggravated robbery even though Webb had pled guilty to aggravated robbery. In addition, Jackson obtained the court order in 1996 that officially changed the judgment to robbery and requested early parole for Webb with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Jackson is accused of violating rules that prohibit making false statements to a judge as well as obstructing justice. The petition also accuses Jackson of concealing evidence that “a lawyer would reasonably believe has potential or actual evidentiary value.”

When early parole was denied, Jackson signed court orders for Webb so that he could be transferred from prison to the Navarro County Jail.

The petition accuses Jackson of violating several sections of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and seeks that he “be disciplined as the facts shall warrant.” Such discipline could range from no discipline to disbarment.

Byrne, Jackson’s lawyer, said last week that his client would ask to have a jury hear any accusations of misconduct against him, as state bar rules allow.

Webb’s testimony will likely be a key part of the state bar’s case against Jackson, as well as letters between Webb and Charles Pearce, a now-deceased Corsicana rancher who funneled several thousand dollars to Webb after the Willingham trial. Webb has said the money was promised to him as part of his agreement with Jackson.

No date for any hearing on the petition has been scheduled.

This article was originally written and reported by Maurice Possley for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on the US criminal justice system. You can sign-up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/03/18/prosecutor-accused-misconduct-tx-execution-case/.

Dr Gerald Hurst Dies; He Revealed Faulty Science Used to Convict and Execute Todd Willingham

By , March 16, 2015

Dr.-Gerald-Hurst-Fire-Scientist-Chemist-c-YOKEL-2011Dr. Gerald Hurst, the arson expert who blew the whistle in the case of Todd Willingham, has died. We ran into him several times over the years, including at the hearing held by Judge Charlie Baird on the Willingham case when he testified. He was a marvel and will be sadly missed.

 

 

From the Washington Post:

In early 2004, Dr. Hurst wrote an in-depth fire investigation report which revealed that the Texas State Fire Marshal Office’s findings around the Cameron Todd Willingham case were based on a flawed investigation and outdated science . . .

Hurst disseminated his report to Texas officials—including Texas Governor Rick Perry—in the days before Willingham’s execution, in hope of getting officials to grant Willingham clemency, but to no avail.  Willingham was executed by lethal injection in April 2004.

The same year that Willingham was executed, Hurst wrote another report, this time on the behalf of Ernest Willis, who was on death row after being wrongfully convicted of setting fire to a house that killed two women. Hurst was one of the experts who was able to prove that the same faulty arson science that had been used to help convict Willingham had also been used in the Willis case. Willis was released and exonerated in 2004 at the age of 59.

Willis said of Hurst’s passing, “I will forever be incredibly grateful to Dr. Hurst.  That man helped save my life.”

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