Texas EXECUTED an innocent person
Murder by state
Before his trial in 1992, Cameron Todd Willingham refused to plead guilty to the murder of his children in return for a life sentence. For the next twelve years, he maintained his innocence even though he faced the Texas death machine. On February 18, 2004 he was executed.
Now, it appears that the state of Texas murdered an innocent man. In an article in the New Yorker, writer David Grann makes a compelling argument that the State of Texas ignored an experts report that a fire in Willingham’s Corsicana, TX house was an accident and not arson. Further investigations into the case by a board of Arson Experts reached the same conclusion. Texas will release its own report next year and the question is whether officials in the death state will finally acknowledge that they murdered an innocent man.
The facts of the case are simple. On December 23, 1991 Willingham’s wife had left to go buy a Christmas presents for his three children at the Salvation Army. Willingham went to sleep and was awakened by his daughter Amber calling “Daddy, Daddy”. Willingham said later that he could not get close to the children’s room. He rushed outside and yelled at a neighbor to call the fire department because his “babies” were inside. He broke out windows and tried to get to the children to no avail.
Policemen, firemen, and neighbors all said at first that Willingham was trying to get into the house and he had to be restrained. Other people reported that he was hysterical. His babysitter and his wife said his children were spoiled and that he could never hurt them. As a matter of fact, no motive was ever found for Willingham killing his children except that he was a sociopath and they crimped his “beer drinking and dart throwing” time.
Willingham was tried and convicted on evidence collected by Douglas Fogg and Manuel Vasquez, two state investigators who were convinced that Willingham had killed his children by using an accelerant because, according to them, the fire had at least three points of origin. The investigators concluded that Willingham was the only person who could have started the fire.
The trial lasted two days and the jury was out for about an hour. Willingham was sent to death row where he spent 12 years. They relied on the testimony of jail house informant Johnny Webb, who testified that Willingham had confessed to him that he killed his children. Webb has since been diagnosed as being bi-polar. The defense only called one witness.
A short time before he was executed, his case file was given to arson expert, Dr. Gerald Hurst of Austin. Hurst systematically and scientifically disproved all of the evidence against Willingham and sent a hastily written report to the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. This group never vetted the report and voted by fax to execute Willingham. One member said that the board had never once met to in person. Governor Rick Perry denied clemency to Willingham and the state killed him, even though another inmate was earlier released using the same type of evidence. Willingham went to his death protesting his innocence.
Now, faced with a mountain of evidence, the state of Texas has to look in the mirror and decide whether to be the first state to admit that an innocent person was executed. If it is true, there should be an immediate stop to the death penalty and every case that is suspect should be vetted to see if those who claimed innocence are lying or telling the truth.