Texas Executed An Innocent Man
The Chicago Tribune reports that a fire science expert retained by the State of Texas has concluded that there was no evidence of Arson in the December 1991 fire that killed Cameron Todd Willingham’s three children. Willingham was convicted of murder and was executed in 2004.
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.
Indeed, the report concludes there was no evidence to determine that the December 1991 fire was even set, and it leaves open the possibility the blaze that killed three children was an accident and there was no crime at all — the same findings found in a Chicago Tribune investigation of the case published in December 2004.
Willingham, the father of those children, was executed in February 2004. He protested his innocence to the end.
Over the past five years, the Willingham case has been reviewed by nine of the nation’s top fire scientists — first for the Tribune, then for the Innocence Project, and now for the commission. All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson.
There are two questions that remain now: (1) Will the Texas Forensic Science Commission rule that Texas executed an innocent man? I’m not sure. (2) If it does, will Texas do anything to reform its criminal justice system in response? My guess is: probably not. But I can always hope…