Forensics Show Texas Executed an Innocent Man
We've previously written about Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in Texas in 2004 for an arson/murder. Evidence was mounting that the fire was not arson, but accidental. See here, here, and here.
Steve Mills of the Chicago Tribune reports today that the forensic report requested by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is charged with investigating allegations of forensic error and misconduct, concludes the fire in the Willingham case was accidentally set.
In a withering critique, a nationally known fire scientist has told a state commission on forensics that Texas fire investigators had no basis to rule a deadly house fire was an arson -- a finding that led to the murder conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.
The finding comes in the first state-sanctioned review of an execution in Texas, home to the country's busiest death chamber. If the commission reaches the same conclusion, it could lead to the first-ever declaration by an official state body that an inmate was wrongly executed.
A Chicago Tribune investigation published in December 2004 reached the same conclusion. Now, having obtained the forensic report prepared by Craig Beyler, of Hughes Associates Inc., Mills writes:
Among Beyler's key findings: that investigators failed to examine all of the electrical outlets and appliances in the Willinghams' house in the small Texas town of Corsicana, did not consider other potential causes for the fire, came to conclusions that contradicted witnesses at the scene, and wrongly concluded Willingham's injuries could not have been caused as he said they were.
The state fire marshal on the case, Beyler concluded in his report, had "limited understanding" of fire science. The fire marshal "seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created," he wrote. The marshal's findings, he added, "are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation."
Nine of the country's top scientists have reached the same conclusion in the last five years.
All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson.
JR at Daily Kos has also been following the case and has this report today.
What's next? The Texas Moratorium Network is renewing its call for a moratorium on Texacutions.
"Texas Moratorium Network has been warning for many years that Texas runs the risk of executing an innocent person because of the pace of executions in Texas and the many flaws in the system that can lead to innocent people being wrongfully convicted. Innocent people have been released from Texas death row in the past, including Ernest Willis.
It is too late to release Todd Willingham because Texas already executed him in 2004 for supposedly setting a fire to murder his three children. Today's news that the fire in the Willingham case was not arson means that Texas has moved another step closer to having to face the unspeakable horror that it has executed an innocent person", said Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network.
As the Chicago Tribune opined in 2004:
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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