Some of the biggest innocence news was released by the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday: forensics have shown that Texas executed an innocent man.
On December 23, 1991, the Willingham house in Corsicana, Texas caught fire killing three little girls inside. Their father, Cameron Todd Willingham, was arrested and convicted of murdering his daughters by setting the house on fire. Willingham had claimed innocence from the beginning, but the state paid no attention to his pleas. Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune led an investigation of his case showing that the original investigation was flawed with the use of junk theories that have since been discredited by technological advances. Still he was executed as planned on February 17, 2004. On that day he made his final statement:
“The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.”
Since his execution there has been widespread controversy and uproar over whether or not Willingham was guilty of the crime that led to his death, or if there a crime at all. Several months after the execution, the Chicago Tribune wrote an article on the possibility of his innocence based on the input from many experts. This article revealed that prior to Willingham’s death a report by Gerald Hurst questioning the conviction was ignored by important deciders within the case, including the governor at the time.
“There’s nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire,” said Hurst, a Cambridge University-educated chemist who has investigated scores of fires in his career. “It was just a fire.”
Now, 5 years later, a state-commissioned investigation of the case has come to the same conclusion as the Chicago Tribune‘s original report as well as one from the Innocence Project later on – The conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham was based on theories with no scientific basis, an incomplete investigation, and that it’s possible the fire was an accident.
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.
It’s going to be hard for the state to ignore this, especially when it was their own investigation that came to these conclusions. Hopefully, this will end in admittance from the state on their mistake, but as we’ve seen in the past sometimes egos and pride get in the way of doing what’s right.
We’ll end this post with this quote from Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network:
“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.”