Was Willingham Really Guilty?
An advocate of the Cameron Todd Willingham family, the man executed six years ago after a fire killed three of his daughters, is questioning the objectivity of the Texas commission. He is looking into the matter and wants to reveal if the man was rightly convicted.
Stephen Saloom, the policy director of the non-profit legal advocacy group the Innocence Project, made a comment directed to John Bradley, the chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. The comments were made during the public portion of that panel’s meeting on Friday.
According to the report, Bradley said that groups that are anti-death penalty revealed their desire to hold up Willingham as a “poster boy” for their cause. Willingham was convicted in 1992 after a jury said that he set the fire deliberately, fire that killed his three girls. Apparently, Bradley questioned the approach and called Willingham “a guilty monster”. “This is a very clear statement, ‘Willingham is a guilty monster,’ that brings into question the reliability of your chairman,” Saloom said.
Bradley said with criticism that the “New York lawyers” are making “personal attacks, rather than legal arguments.” The Innocence Project was founded by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. The Project is a New York-based non-profit organization that pursues legal challenges and pushes policy reforms aimed at exonerating those people who were wrongfully accused of crimes Of course, the organization is trying to prevent future injustices. The death-penalty opponents said that an impartial review of Willingham’s death penalty can lead to unprecedented admission. That is that the state could have executed an innocent man.
The daughters of Willingham were: 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins, Karmon and Kameron. They died because their Corsicana, Texas, home went up in flames in 1991. Manuel Vasquez, who is the state’s fire marshal, told the jurors in the trial of Willingham that the fire was set intentionally by him and it spread very quickly because of an inflammable liquid.
The jury convicted Willingham of murder and put him on death penalty. Meanwhile, three reviews of evidence by outside experts had found that the arson determination was based on outdated or a faulty science. The first report on the case was sent to Governor Rick Perry‘s office. It was submitted to appeals courts before the execution of Willingham execution and other two came after he was put to death.
The last report was ordered in 2008 by the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission. It was authorized in 2005 by an act of the Texas state legislature. In the report, Maryland fire science expert Craig Beyler made the conclusion that the arson finding “could not be sustained”. His conclusion was based on the current-day investigative standards and also on those that took place in 1991. Two days before the panel was set to hear from Beyler, the Governor Rick Perry met with the commission in three appointments. In one of them, it was included to replace the panel’s chairman.
Later on, Perry called the move just a “pretty normal protocol”. The departing members’ terms expired. As governor, he signed off on the execution of Willingham. Critics accused him of trying to derail a review in that case. Perry said that he is confident that Willingham was guilty indeed and there is no question about it. The police in Corsicana said that some other evidence beyond the arson testimony could support the prosecution and no mistake was made.
The Forensic Science Commission’s movement on the case investigation slowed down because the board’s new chairman, Bradley, requested a review for the rules of the operating panel. Bradley was appointed to his job as Williamson County district attorney in 2001. This was ahead of his election one year later. Also, he said that this summer the Willingham probe will “absolutely” continue but he could not say when. In July, the Forensic Science Commission had found that the arson investigators used flawed science when they collected the evidence in the Willingham matter. They said that they were not negligent and did not commit any misconduct.
At Friday’s hearing, Saloom revealed some “concerns about several moves that Bradley had made” and questioned whether “it was necessary to revisit everything” that the commission did prior to Bradley’s appointment. “It’s pretty clear that the commission was going along pretty swimmingly until Governor Perry … appointed Bradley as the new commissioner,” said Paul Cates in a phone interview with the CNN. “Since he has been part of the new commission, he’s tried to stop the commission from doing what we believe that it should be doing.”
Later in the hearing, several members from the Forensic Commission engaged in a very heated exchange over Willingham’s case and the panel’s role. Dr. Garry Adams said that “it is important to maintain credibility” given the intense media that is focused on the case. Also, other fellow members like Lance Evans and Dr. Sarah Kerrigan questioned the validity of Willingham’s conviction.
Bradley said that in much of the debate’s time over the case of Willingham was fanned by the media and some other outside influences. Also, he noted that the authorities, ranging from parole boards to the U.S. Supreme Court, looked into the trial and the conviction ahead of the execution of Willingham. “We’re being used, and we should recognize that,” said Bradley.
On Thursday in Texas, the District Court Judge Charlie Baird had a request by Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson in which he demanded to step aside as he opened a hearing into whether Willingham’s name should be cleared six years after the execution. The members of Willingham’s family pushed for the hearing and claimed that only “junk science” led to a wrongful conviction and execution.11