Cameron Todd Willingham
Texas may well have killed an innocent man
ON THE morning of December 23rd 1991 a fire destroyed a home in Corsicana,
Texas shared by Cameron Todd Willingham, his wife and their three daughters.
The fire killed the girls; Mrs Willingham was at the Salvation Army store shopping for Christmas gifts.
Mr Willingham survived. The next year he was convicted of setting the fire. He was sentenced to death and executed in 2004.
His conviction rested on arson investigators'findings and the testimony of Johnny Webb,
a jailhouse informant who claimed that Willingham had confessed to him.
Shortly before the execution, Willingham's lawyers sent the governor and parole board a report from Gerald Hurst,
another arson investigator, detailing multiple flaws in the first investigation.
He concluded that the fire was caused by a space heater or faulty electrical wiring.
Officials appear to have received this report before Willingham's execution, but did nothing with it.
Several independent arson investigators reached similar conclusions.
Willingham insisted on his innocence, refusing to plead guilty even to avoid execution.
Mr Webb testified that, as he was passing Willingham's cell,
he heard him confess to having done the deed to cover up child abuse committed by his wife.
But no bruises or signs of abuse were found on the children's bodies.
Mr Webb recanted his testimony in 2000. He then recanted his recantation,
but admitted to a journalist that “It's very possible I misunderstood what [Willingham] said.”
Mr Webb also testified that he was promised no benefit in exchange for his testimony.
In February, however, lawyers working to get Willingham a posthumous pardon revealed a note discovered in Mr Webb's file with the Navarro County prosecutor promising a reduced charge “based on coop[eration] in Willingham”.
On April 3rd Texas denied Willingham a pardon. His lawyers can reapply in April 2016.