TX Commission to Investigate Whether Innocent Man Was Executed

This is really big news. For the first time in U.S. history, a state commission will investigate whether an innocent man was executed.

A Texas panel will investigate whether a man executed for setting a fire that killed his three daughters actually started the blaze.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed Friday to review conclusions that Cameron Todd Willingham set the fire in 1991. He was executed in 2004.... The Innocence Project, a legal group that works to overturn wrongful convictions, says experts in a report it commissioned concluded the fire was not intentionally set.

You can read JR's diary about it on Daily Kos . One of the experts who co-authored the Innocence Project report is his father, John Lentini, who has written extensively on fire science and errors made during investigations.

The executed inmate was Cameron Todd Willingham #999041. Read the results of a 2004 exhaustive investigation into the case by award-winning Chicago Tribune investigative reporters Maurice Possley and Steve Mills. [More...]

Strapped 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.

I wrote about the case here and here.

As the Chicago Tribune opined:

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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    This makes me very, very sad (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by ap in avl on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 08:37:07 PM EST
    I cannot imagine living with such loss.  But being falsely accused, convicted and sent to one's death.....

    There are no words.  My soul breaks for that poor man.

    Finally (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by coigue on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 08:42:26 PM EST

    "It should send a shiver across the (5.00 / 0) (#3)
    by Teresa on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 08:57:41 PM EST
    nation." It sure does me. I would never serve on a jury where someone could be put to death. I'm not God and I can't believe we still allow it in our country.

    We wouldn't be allowed on such a jury--which in (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by jawbone on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 09:54:12 PM EST
    itself seems unfair to me.

    But I think that being falsely accused is one of my great personal fears.  There was a made for TV movie about a guy who had a similar appearance to the actual murderer, who was harrassed, arrested over and over, always being watched. Sort of a Hatfill thing. I don't recall exactly how it ended, but the actual perp saw this guy as his perfect cover for continuing his killing spree.

    Not a great movie, but, boy, has that stuck with me.


    Sadly, it will not (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by angie on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 10:44:56 PM EST
    the pro-death penalty crowd sees "one" (they always emphasize the fact that it is "one") innocent person being executed as collateral damage, i.e., not so bad given the number of people executed. I always ask those whom I meet who think like this "Don't you understand that guy who didn't actually kill anybody but got executed could have been you?" It shocks them for a second but they go back to their inane rationalizations. pfft. IMO if there are people in this world who do "need killing" it's the ones who think like that. /s

    It could be any one of us. That should scare us (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Teresa on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 10:59:00 PM EST
    all. The thought of putting one innocent person to death is enough to make me very opposed to the death penalty. Look at how many have been in prison or on death row only to be found innocent. One is too many. I'm opposed even for the guilty because we as humans have no right to kill another period. Maybe this case and others like it can change a few minds, but I doubt it.

    Don't they realize (none / 0) (#20)
    by Birmingham Blues on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 08:53:33 AM EST
    that in most cases, the execution of an innocent person means there is a guilty one who got away with it?  I realize this particular case is different, in that what was called murder may very well have been an accident.

    I don't think they do (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Jen M on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 12:05:40 PM EST
    Not people I have talked to anyway. They just keep repeating "what if it was one of your family"

    Are any of the family still alive? (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 09:29:53 PM EST
    If it is decided that he was innocent what could "Texas" say to them?

    Who would be willing to say "mistakes happen"?

    A bit late (5.00 / 3) (#5)
    by chopper on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 09:34:41 PM EST
    They should have investigated before they killed the poor guy.

    How much in damages...? (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Dadler on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 10:17:38 PM EST
    ...do you pay the family in restitution?  A billion dollars?  Fifty billion?

    I would.  And it must be awarded.  An amount so astronomical the state must borrow from the feds to pay it.  Since that's what it seems will only force Texas, and other states like it, to change and end this wretched practice.

    And, still, a trillion dollars would never be enough.  Not to any family.

    40% disability payments for my partners two legs (5.00 / 0) (#10)
    by ap in avl on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 10:33:05 PM EST
    lost in military service.

    I know the state isn't responsible for the tragic, accidental loss of the three children.  But in executing their innocent father for their death.....the pain and suffering of the loss of 4 family members....what do you do for the survivors?  Is any amount enough......

    I agree.  Make 'em pay enough to make it prohibitive for states to stop this nonsense.  Unfortunately, it all comes down to money.  What a sad commentary on our society.


    What seems to pass for justice (5.00 / 3) (#9)
    by Edger on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 10:29:51 PM EST
    too often in Texas is that he wouldn't have been arrested if he wasn't guilty....

    i wouldn't hold my breath, (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by cpinva on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 11:35:35 PM EST
    expecting this panel to come up with anything other than that he was guilty. it is automatically politically co-opted, merely by virtue of its being in texas. the state will never allow anyone, under its purview, to report that they executed someone innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.

    richard nixon commisioned a study, to see if there was a provable link between p*rn and sex crimes. the results were never officially released. they were, however, leaked. not surprisingly, the report concluded no cause/effect link could be proven. not what pres. nixon wanted to hear.

    if this report proves texas did execute an innocent person, it will be buried by the gov.

    The experts' report from the Innocence (none / 0) (#17)
    by jccamp on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 12:22:45 AM EST
    Project has several serious and obvious flaws even on a first reading.

    One of the fire marshals testifies that of the arson fires that he has personally investigated, about 50% resulted in injury or death. The report authors then chose to compare the investigator's statement to a U S (national) data base that describes injuries and/or deaths in any type of fire, which is substantially lower than 50%. They then use this discrepancy to impeach the investigator's other comments.

    The experts' report describes the floor of one bedroom as sustaining significant fire damage before the walls and ceiling (which were made of fire resistant dryboard) as also contradicting the fire marshal's testimony. What they ignored was the statement of the defendant, who claimed he ran into that bedroom to search for his children, and only left the bedroom when the ceiling fell on him, burning his shoulder. The defendant was barefoot at the time, and had no injury to his feet. By the experts' own theory, this would have been impossible, since the floor was completely involved before the walls and ceiling sustained serious damage. Perhaps the defendant lied about his actions to make him seem more heroic than he really was. However, if a defendant has made manifestly false statements, then his other statements could be questioned as well. I can't believe that the experts missed this. They chose to ignore it, because it didn't fit with the theory of the fire of their paid employers.

    Evidence from the fire that agreed with the experts' description of how to determine a fire was actually set - the presence of accelerants - was brushed aside. A melted lighter fluid container was found by the front door, and lighter fluid traces found in the wood floor inside the doorway. The experts concluded that this might have happened when fire hoses blasted lighter fluid from outside to inside, but unlike those theories that disagreed with the official investigation, they offer no tests or precedent to suggest such a thing to be possible.

    The claims that the defendant was innocent also ignore the human testimony, including a statement from his ex-wife that he confessed to her before his execution. The ex-wife later retracted that statement. At the time of the fire, the defendant described himself as making repeated efforts to rescue his children. The neighbors testified that he stood outside and watched, until the fire threatened his car, which he pushed away from the house and saved.

    The state of arson investigations has progressed since the original trial, and the science of such investigations, if known at the time of trial, may have created reasonable doubt. However, the clear fact that the experts' report has - there is no other word for it - lied about the accuracy of one of the fire marshal's personal experience would certainly make one wonder what else they have misrepresented or exaggerated.  There are several posts that have already concluded that the state will whitewash the affair and ignore the facts. Are these posters similarly indignant when those claiming the defendant was innocent ignore or misrepresent facts in order to make their case?

    In all fairness, the state did use a discredited doctor who testified that the defendant would always be dangerous, and probably had a large effect on the jury's recommendation of death.

    This entire case has a stink about it. However, even the Innocence Project experts conclude that the government witnesses testified in good faith, based on the state of arson investigation at the time of trial. This is hardly an instance of the government wantonly executing persons they know to be innocent. Based on what facts seem to be known now, one could conclude that the defendant did indeed set the fire and murder his children. Or not. But it's hardly as open-and-shut as some would have us believe. it seems to me that no one - and no entity - is actually looking for a reasonable and unbiased review.

    The facts are sufficiently murky that this does not seem to me to be a capital case. There were too many possibilities for error. So, in the end, this case does argue against capital punishment in all but the most irrefutable cases.  


    I'll reply as best I can... (none / 0) (#19)
    by jr on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 06:41:23 AM EST
    I appreciate the critical eye towards the report, but I believe that the concerns you raised can all be effectively rebutted.  I don't have a scientific background, though I did grow up around fire investigators, I've been hearing about this case in particular for four years, and, as you might have guessed,  I'm the son of one of the report's authors (Jeralyn linked my dKos diary on the subject above).

    Your argument concerning the testimony of Deputy Fire Marshall Vasquez about his investigative record is based on what appears to be a misreading of the report's claim.  The authors first note that Vasquez must have overstated at trial the proportion of fires he's investigated that were determined to be arson, citing Texas statistics (Vasquez claimed at trial that, of the "1,200-1,500" fires he had investigated, "most all of them" were arson, despite the fact that his own office believed the incidences of arson to be about 50% in fires it investigated).  His subsequent statement about the injury rates in 'arsons' he's investigated--that about 50% of his 'arson' cases featured an injury or death--is almost impossibly high given the fact that, nationally, the rate of injury in fires (accidental and arson combined) is only around 1.45%.  Given that Mr. Vasquez is either exaggerating about the proportion of fires he's investigated that turned out to be arson or else he's simply the unluckiest investigator in the nation to have caught so many arson cases (Occam's Razor says the former is probably correct), and given that fire burns the same in Texas as it does in the rest of the country, it's perfectly reasonable to compare his claims in light of available statistical evidence and perform a basic "smell test."  (Mr. Vasquez's subsequent testimony that "all fire burns up" further calls his professional competence into question, since, even by the science of 1991, that was known to be an incorrect statement).

    Generally, arsonists are out to create property damage, not injure or kill people (in recent decades, between 40-50% of arson arrests have been of juveniles under the age of 18), so the idea that the injury rate in legitimate arsons would be high enough to offset the difference from the injury rate in all fires, accidental and incendiary combined, to the degree that Mr. Vasquez cited is a bit of a tough sell (as is the idea that the rate of injuries in arson fires alone would come close to approaching the statistics cited by Mr. Vasquez--the leading cause of fires that result in civilian deaths is smoking, and civilian injuries and deaths happen almost 2/3rds of the time in homes with no functioning smoke alarms, according to the NFPA.  And yes, those are national statistics, which I have every reason to expect would apply in Texas).

    Regarding the ceiling in the front bedroom, the report discusses the progression of the fire regarding the ceiling and floor in post-flashover conditions.  Were the room to have been post-flashover, however, Willingham would never have been able to get in the door because of the radiant heat: if his recollection is accurate, the room must have been PRE-flashover, meaning neither the floor nor the ceiling would have been burning.  Therefore, if he was indeed struck by falling debris, it's likely to have been from something other than the ceiling.  It's also possible that he misinterpreted the heat of the fire (which was already high enough to ignite his hair near the ceiling) as something falling onto him.  Putting it another way: his description could match what someone would feel if they were at the threshold of a room as it became fully involved.  What his testimony could not match, however, would be what would have happened were an accelerant used on the floor, which would have created a burning fire at his feet rather than an "orange glow" on the ceiling as he described (which would fit with what a pre-flashover room would look like).  And if ANYONE, defendant or state's witness, made manifestly false statements about one thing, then their other statements should of course be questioned, which is why examining the science is so important in a case where eyewitness and expert testimony provide conflicting accounts--in this case, all questionable testimony aside, the science doesn't indicate arson.

    There is no dispute that a chemical that could have been used as an accelerant was present.  The issue is that the accelerant was claimed by the state to have been used in a way that is simply impossible to prove (and, in some ways, impossible to have happened), and thus the significance of the accelerant's presence is lessened by the fact that it doesn't fit with the theory put forth by the state, so the presumption of innocence should stand.  The accelerant could not have burned under a threshold or under floor tiles, which was the state's way of explaining an irregular burn pattern.  The pattern that was attributed to the accelerant was likely a result of flashover.  The presence of an accelerant is not itself damning in a fire investigation (one thing my father pioneered was determining a technique for differentiating between the residue of burned asphalt found in roofing materials and heavy petroleum distillates like kerosene, which were often mistaken in gas chromatographs up through the 1990s), so the fact that its presence only fit with either an unscientific theory proffered by the state, or an innocent explanation that fit the science and the events on the scene, actually weakens the state's case, rather than strengthen it.

    The human testimony was conflicting--one witness, Burvin Smith, reported that he had to restrain a hysterical Willingham from going onto his front porch (where the only accessible door back inside was).  Nobody denies that Willingham's behavior was erratic, but "erratic" is not the same as "damning."  (For example, another case where junk science was used in a prosecution featured an accused woman who, after calling the fire department to respond to the fire that was killing her husband in their work shed, proceeded to lock her house up behind her and wait in the yard.)  Moving a car away from a fire could show either presence of mind or unnatural concern under the circumstances, but neither is proof of innocence or guilt.

    (As to the claim of his ex-wife that he confessed to her: what exactly would the motive to have continued the charade have been after he had been strapped to the execution gurney?  He maintained his innocence until the moment of his death.  Further, like you noted above, conflicting accounts need to be given reduced weight, and the ex-wife's accounts conflicted in this case.)

    There is no "lie" about Mr. Vasquez's personal experience in the report: there is, however, a very convincing statistical argument that Mr. Vasquez was exaggerating on the stand about his professional experience.  The very first thing taught in any statistics class is that, if the stats don't pass the smell test, they're probably wrong.  There is more than ample reason to doubt Mr. Vasquez's claims about his record, and pointing out how his statistics offered at trial vary wildly from state and national statistics is not "lying" by any stretch.  

    Testifying "in good faith at the time of trial" does not mean the witness was not negligent, nor is it the same thing as "executing a man in good faith at the time of sentence."  Scientific rigor before the trial would have resulted in the fire being deemed accidental (as all fires in Texas must be considered unless evidence proves otherwise).  And professional ethics would dictate that the state fire marshall's office should have notified the court that the evidence their witness provided was unreliable in light of scientific advances generally accepted prior to the execution.  This is, in fact, precisely "a case of the government wantonly executing persons they know to be innocent," assuming "innocent until proven guilty" is still the presumption.

    And before you continue implying that the expert review was biased, we should note that all four fire investigators in the report have served on the NFPA Technical Committee on Fire Investigations, which is responsible for setting the scientific standards that govern fire debris analysis, and indicates all are highly respected in their field.  Further, three of the investigators have law enforcement backgrounds (my father began at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Churchward was a police officer and fire investigator in Ft. Wayne, and Mr. Smith was a detective with the Arson and Bomb unit of the Tuscon P.D.), and have experience working fire investigations from both sides of the table.  None of the report's authors were compensated, and all signed sworn affidavits attesting to the quality of their work.

    All in all, I think the report holds up very well, and seems to match the independent review that my father (John Lentini), Gerald Hurst, Kendall Ryland and John DeHaan conducted on behalf of the Chicago Tribune prior to the IP report's conception.  That makes, by my count, seven prominent fire investigators (five of whom helped draft NFPA 921) who have signed onto at least one review of the fire that calls into question the validity of the conviction.  Based on the facts known now, and known at the time of the execution, Cameron Todd Willingham was the victim of bad science, Texas politics and overzealous prosecution.


    First, I appreciate the reasoned tone of the reply (none / 0) (#23)
    by jccamp on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 02:10:27 PM EST
    Since we will probably agree to disagree on many points, I'll try not to repeat anything from my first response.

    As to the testimony of Vasquez: using 2000 as a typical year, there were something like 12,000 plus suspicious fires or arsons in Texas. The Texas FMO only investigated 400 plus of these. If, as I believe, the state Fire Marshal only investigates those suspicious fires which are somehow classified as serious in nature, then Vasquez's statement that people are injured in killed in 50% of the fires he investigates might be realistic. I don't know the criteria for the Texas FMO to intervene and participate in a fire investigation. I presume (one of) the report's authors does know that criteria. In any event, comparing total    U S fires of any type with a subset of those with injury or death, when Vasquez was clearly referring to arsons which he investigated personally is apples and oranges. Unnecessary and inaccurate when trying to attack Vasquez's credibility, especially, as you point out, the science as known to Vasquez was clearly deficient. Why stretch the truth when relying on the science alone would have sufficed.

    As to the statement of the defendant about the bedroom, i read the experts' report as saying that the floor (or something low) was burning, a heat plume rose and covered the ceiling, and then eventually worked back down the walls and caused flashover, igniting everything that could burn. My point is exactly the same as your conclusion: the defendant was in the room pre-flashover, and his claim that the ceiling fell on him, burning his shoulder was impossible.  

    BTW, at trial, it was alleged that the defendant's injuries were superficial- i.e. not like his statement that his hair caught on fire - and probably self-inflicted. I only have the gist of what either side alleged here, not the actual testimony.

    The testimony at trial was that the defendant did not attempt to re-enter the house, but he did find time to push his auto to safety, until after the front of the house "blew out" and the first firefighters were arriving.  Then the defendant made a show of screaming and trying to enter the back door, which was blocked on the inside by a refrigerator and could not be opened, something the defendant obviously knew. I agree the witness testimony is very subjective, but generally, witnesses agreed the defendant saved his car but not his children, and was acting suspiciously.

    Had an accelerant been used to start and spread the fire, the evidence of accelerant by the front door is entirely consistent with that theory. In the bedroom, the floor was apparently, in order, carpet over padding, over vinyl tile, over a wood floor. Had accelerant been poured on the floor in the area where the wood floor was exposed because the carpet, padding and tile were completely consumed, it is not likely that chemical residue of accelerant would have survived. As the report points out, there is no way to categorize the floor burn patterns in this case as either accidental or arson. The state's theory survives this report quite well, even if the original scientific logic proposed by the state has not. There is certainly nothing in the report that rules out arson; it merely finds the original scientific basis erroneous.

    As to the defendant's last statements, there is no logic or reason that control. The defendant cold have easily confessed to his ex-wife, (who called her extended family together to repeat his confession), and subsequently denied guilt.

    For whatever reason, the report available on the Innocence Project site is clearly biased. Information available to the experts which might have supported the government and the theory of arson is ignored. Vasquez, for all of his failings, could have stated his professional history quite accurately. If the report supported the government's position, I'm sure there would be talk of biased lab techs subconsciously trying to please the prosecutors (or something equally hard to prove).  

    Finally, I do not dispute that the report(s) call into serious question the validity of the scientific (such as it was) testing and testimony in the original trial. However, to raise doubts about the scientific testing is not the same as proving the defendant's innocence. Nothing in the reports tends to prove accidental causation, but only disputes the original methods used to determine suspicious origin. Some of the evidence indicating suspicious origin remains unchallenged.

    I'll will repeat myself here - the experts' report may well have constituted reasonable doubt if available at the trial. However, from what I can see of the state's case, a jury could have reasonably found the defendant guilty anyway, since the report does not disprove arson. This should not have been a capital case, that I think everyone would agree with. The facts of the case, however, are not nearly as easily discerned and defined as the screaming headlines "Innocent Man Executed" would have us believe.

    And, again, thanks for being civil.


    Just a brief reply: (none / 0) (#24)
    by jr on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 04:17:09 PM EST
    And, again, thank you for your tone in this discussion.

    I can't help but notice that much of your argument rests on what COULD have been presented by the state at trial, instead of what WAS presented by the state.  That's a completely inappropriate way to examine the case, since the state's theory, and the forceful way it was presented to the jury, are really not things you can gloss over, even putting the science aside for the moment.  

    When the state testifies that something DID happen, the jury is going to interpret that in a much different way than if the state testifies that something MAY HAVE happened.  In this case, your claim is that there MAY have been an accelerant used, though the evidence is inconclusive.  The state's argument was that the scene showed someone DID use an accelerant, which is not the same claim you're making and is not borne out by the forensics at the scene.

    "Using 2000 as a typical year" seems to be less rigorous than using the 15-year average cited in the IP report, especially given that Vasquez's testimony covered his entire career.  That average showed that, of the fires the TSFMO investigated (which, we agree, are more likely to have a higher percentage of legitimate arson fires), only 50% were determined to be arson.  So, again, either Vasquez was simply the unluckiest guy in the TSFMO, or he found a determination of arson at a higher rate than the TEXAS statistics suggest he should have.  That fact is enough to call his statistical recollection into question, and casts a serious doubt over his citation that 50% of 'arsons' he investigated featured injury or death--what seems far more likely, given the state (and relevant national) statistics, is that he was called more often to fires involving injury or death, and made erroneous determinations of arson in those cases.  (Either that, or he shot an albatross at sea one day...)

    The defendant's claim (not at trial: he didn't take the stand) was not that the ceiling fell on him, but that debris fell from the ceiling.  Those are different claims of fact.  And I fully concede that he may have misinterpreted what he felt in the blaze--not only do the conditions described suggest that he wouldn't have been able to see what was falling (if anything), but his testimony suggests that he was low enough to the ground that objects might have fallen from ABOVE, though not the ceiling (he felt on the floor for his twins, and from there felt the bed for his other daughter--both would have had him bent over or slumped far enough for debris to realistically have fallen on him, even if the obscured ceiling remained intact pre-flashover).  I have forwarded this point on to someone more connected to the case, and I'm awaiting a response to make sure we have our mental reconstructions of the events correct (we may be misinterpreting the report's claims).

    Had an accelerant been used (which, as you seem to recognize, would be an unprovable hypothesis at best and would have to be declared as such at trial), I have to ask: given that the back door was obstructed, why would Willingham have used an accelerant directly in front of his only avenue of escape, and why would he have left the container of accelerant sitting on his front porch to be easily discovered? Either one of those facts could have been presented at trial to introduce doubt to the state's allegation.  But, again, the report focused on provable forensic analysis (or the lack thereof) by the state.  In this case, the accelerant's presence was not merely noted by the state, but was coupled with a mistaken and unscientific analysis of the fire scene to present a definitive case, which would be professionally irresponsible (the IAAI code of ethics requires that investigators be "a truth-seeker not a case maker; that it is more important to protect the innocent than to convict the guilty," and we all know that witnesses are sworn to tell "the whole truth" at trial).

    I agree that the defendant's alleged confession-not-confession is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, which is why I was confused that you'd bring it up, especially in light of the fact that we agree conflicting testimony by a witness (in this case, his ex-wife) lessens the witness's credibility.

    I do not agree the report is "clearly biased," and I remain unconvinced that your arguments illustrate bias on the part of the report's authors (again, these are all highly regarded experts working pro bono, so the motive you think they'd have for skewing their analysis remains unclear).

    Finally, to raise doubts about the validity of the scientific testimony used to convict a person (indeed, to completely refute the scientific testimony used based on the standards of the field) does not "prove the defendant's innocence" so much as show that the presumption of innocence could not have been validly overcome in this case.  Given an accurate interpretation of the science at trial (excluding the claims known to be false at the time of the trial and those that would be unacceptable under NFPA 921 at the time of the execution), there is no way for a jury to reasonably conclude that Willingham was guilty, if for no other reason than, in Texas, a fire must be shown to be incendiary rather than accidental before an arson case can be brought, and the evidence--properly interpreted under the standards accepted in the field--does not sufficiently establish that point.

    (And yes, that is my idea of "brief" :) )


    Thanks again. (none / 0) (#27)
    by jccamp on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 09:47:25 PM EST
    This exchange has been informative, and may illuminate similar issues in other cases. It's good that we can disagree, make point and counterpoint without resorting to...well, harsh language let's say.

    For others, JR and I exchanged emails, and I agree that whatever a jury could or could not have determined with different scientific testimony, the death sentence should not have been carried out. it's a little late to be conducting a scientific review now.


    thanks for the kind words (none / 0) (#29)
    by jr on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 10:37:43 PM EST
    ...but I have to quibble with one thing: the scientific review of this case, and the recommendations from the TFSC, could be used to set a procedure for reviewing other cases (like that of the now-exonerated Ernest Willis, another death row inmate) where bad fire science led to untenable convictions.  As I mentioned in one of our emails, scientific fire investigation is still relatively new, and those people convicted based on myths and "old wives' tales" that have since been discredited are still in prison, based on testimony that would, in a modern setting, be laughed out of court.

    But I thank you for the respectful tone, and the continued discussion, and for the recognition that Texas erred in carrying out this execution based on the evidence used to convict Willingham.


    I didn't mean the review is misplaced (none / 0) (#30)
    by jccamp on Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 10:45:59 PM EST
    or unnecessary. i was referring to its value to Willingham at this date.

    The review is needed. As much as I wish to see some criminals hammered, it's important that they be hammered for something they actually did themselves. Anything that improves the process is good with me.



    Wow. (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by rghojai on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 12:18:50 AM EST
    Striking to see this. As a newly minted reporter, I covered that story for the Corsicana newspaper, was out there that day.

    What's important to remember in this case (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by phat on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 12:38:46 AM EST
    is that it points to the obvious defects in the arguments concerning DNA testing being the savior of the death penalty.

    Most cases that have been overturned have not been overturned by DNA evidence. DNA is not the be all and end all of innocence cases. It certainly helps, but even DNA evidence needs strong scrutiny.

    This case in particular is a case I've used when speaking about the death penalty to people.

    It's so obviously problematic.

    Wasn't it Scalia who said innocence (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by myiq2xu on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 09:21:59 AM EST
    is irrelevant, so long as they got a fair trial?

    I noticed that (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by JamesTX on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 04:35:00 PM EST
    the TDCJ (Texas Detachment of Criminal Jokers) actually censored Willingham's final statement because of "profanity". What else could you expect from someone enduring the ultimate injustice from these thugs? Looking at the content of the first part of his statement, it appears the poor guy tried to hold it together fairly well, but he must have lost his temper in the end. I think we have a right to know this man's final words, and he has a right to be heard. Is there any way to get those words out here? Could it be obtained from witnesses, or could TDCJ be made to release it?

    Could this be (none / 0) (#8)
    by MichaelGale on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 10:29:10 PM EST
    prosecuted as murder by the State of Texas? Or is it defended by the past arson patterns as legitimate?

    Another case against Texas and their swift march to execute humans. BTW, there are four more executions schedule within the next weeks ahead.

    dead men (none / 0) (#14)
    by bronco214 on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 11:36:31 PM EST
    Well, you can't blame this one on the hangin' gov GWB. He might have put down 150+ but he didn't kill this person. But, he would of and then laughed about it!

    watch me: (none / 0) (#15)
    by jr on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 11:58:31 PM EST
    If he hadn't left TX for DC, Rick Perry wouldn't have assumed the top spot, and wouldn't have been in a position to callously ignore the overwhelming evidence pointing to a wrongful conviction.

    Commutative property of willfully ignorant executions, dontcha know?


    Thanks. n/t (none / 0) (#28)
    by JamesTX on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 10:17:08 PM EST