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Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

The debate continues over the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham last February. Chicago Trib reporters Maurice Possley and Steve Mills outlined the case and its disputed forensics last month.

...trapped to a gurney in Texas' death chamber earlier this year, just moments from his execution for setting a fire that killed his three daughters, Cameron Todd Willingham declared his innocence one last time. "I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit," Willingham said angrily. "I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do."

While Texas authorities dismissed his protests, a Tribune investigation of his case shows that Willingham was prosecuted and convicted based primarily on arson theories that have since been repudiated by scientific advances. According to four fire experts consulted by the Tribune, the original investigation was flawed and it is even possible the fire was accidental.

Today a Chicago Tribune editorial focuses on the errors in the Willingham case to make the point:

That's what passes for justice in Texas. The Willingham case undermines the notion that we execute only those we know to be guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." It should send a shiver across the nation.

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  • Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#1)
    by Sailor on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 05:48:56 PM EST
    This is exactly why the Innocence Project needs more money. Protecting the innocent on death row is wonderful, but proving innocent people have been put to death will be the touchstone to reform,

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#2)
    by wishful on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 05:56:00 PM EST
    Sailor, I think understand what you mean, sort of. But think about it. We have devolved to the point where we have to prove that we have already murdered innocent people in order to stop murdering people? I was hoping we were better than that. This sets the bar so low that we must rush right on down to the sub-basement to find it. "Beyond a reasonable doubt", and "executing an innocent person" are, by definition, mutually exclusive. The system is broken.

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 06:01:13 PM EST
    Dont matter if he's innocent;long is they git somebody. N' aint no yankee do-gooders gonna tell us different - bet he said"Pleeese dont kill me".

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#4)
    by cp on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 06:18:51 PM EST
    "justice, we don't need no stinkin' justice!" do you suppose we could convince texas to secede again? we'll help this time, really! although, i have no room to talk, va may well have also executed at least one innocent person. our exalted high state attorney general does not agree. arguing against dna testing, on the evidence still in existence, he proclaimed that juries do not find innocent people guilty. therefore, anyone found guilty by a jury in my fair commonwealth cannot possibly be innocent, any facts to the contrary notwithstanding. don't you just love circular logic? the worst part is, this bozo is planning on running for governor! not that it would do the already executed party any good, but i, for one, would at least like to be sure he was actually guilty of the crime he was executed for. is that really asking so very much?

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#5)
    by wishful on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 06:27:53 PM EST
    I remember on boards of the past here, the wingers kept challenging the reality-based to give an example of an innocent who was executed. I believe their logic was that if there was no proof of innocence after the fact (although what would be the point, the guy's DEAD?), there was indeed guilt, or something. Notwithstanding the absolute illogic of that position, maybe that is why your va da is not allowing dna testing in the post-execution case. It would shut the wingers the eff up, and we can't have that.

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#6)
    by Sailor on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 06:28:48 PM EST
    Wishful - We have devolved to the point where we have executed innocent people. Proving it 'beyond a reasonable doubt' is what is required to bring the masses along. (look up 'reasonable doubt' to see why I quibble.)

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 07:51:31 PM EST
    The response from local prosecutors included a two-paragraph affidavit from Ronnie Kuykendall, the brother of Willingham's former wife. He said that Stacy, who had divorced Willingham while he was on Death Row, had recently visited him, then gathered the family to say that he had confessed. But she said in an interview that was untrue. At the time of the trial, she said she had believed in her husband's innocence, but over the years, after studying the evidence and the trial testimony, she became convinced he was guilty. In their final meeting, however, he did not confess, she told the Tribune.
    Let's not pretend that we know this man to have been innocent. We can argue "beyond a reasonable doubt", but as we all know, "reasonable" is subjective.

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#8)
    by wishful on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 07:51:37 PM EST
    Sailor - You're right, of course, that we have so bastardized the system that we now have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that we have executed an innocent "guilty" person. I didn't make myself clear. I was awkwardly trying to say that finding these innocent defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and then executing them mocks the very idea of BRD. How can it be shown to 12 jurors that someone did it, BRD, when he didn't really do it? Something's broken. We can't trust verdicts, for whatever reasons. Since we know the system is broken, how can we take a chance at executing an innocent person and still call ourselves civilized? So, BRD guilty findings no longer equal guilt and execution, if ever it did. Sorry for the confusion.

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#9)
    by Sailor on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 08:42:50 PM EST
    Wishful, yep, I didn't quite get what you meant, I think we're both in shock and awe ... and for so many reasons.

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#10)
    by cp on Sat Jan 08, 2005 at 10:00:14 PM EST
    blank, that is the point, we don't know. neither does the jury that convicted him, based on faulty "science", which turns out to be no science at all. talk about subjective, one of the fire "investigators" basically admitted it was all guesswork. this, after the new standards for arson investigations, with the new, scientifically tested, information, had been issued in texas. it didn't conform to their notions of what an arson should be, so they just ignored it. if a surgeon ignored the newest standards, established by the governing technical body for his specialty, he would be guilty of malpractice. if i, as a cpa, ignored the current audit standards, established by the governing body, i would be guilty of malpractice. why aren't other professions held to the same standards as doctors and cpa's? not exactly what i classify as an "expert" witness. but then, we're talking about texas, not a normal state. oh, and i truly enjoyed the one juror's comment, that she would have convicted him, even if the fire was accidental, because the children died. lest you be confused, this guy was clearly no angel, he apparently had his problems. that said, that wasn't what he was tried for. this actually comes very close to the recent case of scott peterson. no real evidence, but we'll convict him anyway, because a child was killed. very, very frightening.

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#11)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Jan 09, 2005 at 05:42:06 AM EST
    even mark fuhrman-MARK FUHRMAN!- turned against the death penalty. he went to oklahoma for a book on ok.'s large death row population and realized how corrupt the police/prosecutor/prison/execution system is. his book: "death and justice". if you don't want to give fuhrman your $, check the library

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#12)
    by Adept Havelock on Sun Jan 09, 2005 at 09:01:12 AM EST
    Did they kill an innocent? Probably. What's more chilling? The Far Right wings view of "so what"?

    Re: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? (none / 0) (#13)
    by john horse on Sun Jan 09, 2005 at 10:29:38 AM EST
    Agree with comments against the death penalty. About 10 years ago I read a book against the death penalty about 50 or so actual cases of people sentenced to death who were actually innocent. What I liked about the book was that it grouped the errors that were made into categories. Can anyone tell me what the name of this book was?