Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

If you read this article it’s very hard not to conclude that Texas executed an innocent man when it put Cameron Todd Willingham to death for the arson deaths of his children.

This is a horrible story on several levels. The basic event of a housefire with fatalities is awful. The agony of the parents who have lost their children in this way is terrible to consider. Finally, there is the awful matter that the father never should have stood trial in the matter and certainly should not have been put to death.

At this late date I even feel bad for the fire investigators, whose work was describes as more mystic work than science. There’s a good chance that in this case, as in so many where it becomes apparent that the justice system has failed, the prosecutors and experts who pushed prosecution and guilt may deny the facts for the rest of their lives. Who can blame them. Consider their alternative – they could review the facts and say, I made a mistake and I feel terrible about it.

Well, read it if you can stand it. And think about how important it is to have good forensic evidence before we jail and/or execute somebody. Jail house snitches are not to be relied on. Their information is about as reliable as Chalabi’s intelligence on Iraq, and it’s poor evidence for the same reason. The system allows, encourages, rewards folks who will swear to what people in power want to hear.

On a personal note, I got rousted by Texas Public Safety outside Corsicana a few decades  ago.  I had on a pony tail, a cowboy hat, and cutoff jeans and I was cruising though in my TR3 with the top down and I think I must have looked too much like the Austin hippie I was.  Scary hour before the skunks decided not to throw me through a nearby barb wire fence and let me go.  Corsicana is famous for its fruitcakes.  You can look it up.

clipped from www.newyorker.com

Cameron Todd Willingham in his cell on death row, in 1994. He insisted upon his innocence in the deaths of his children and refused an offer to plead guilty in return for a life sentence. Photograph by Ken Light.

Trial by Fire

The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.

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