Daily Archives: August 25, 2009

Texas kills…..an innocent man? (updated)

The first half of the title of this post (shamelessly plagiarized from our good friends at CapDefWeekly) should come as no surprise to anyone. Texas is a powerhouse when it comes to executions, rapidly putting people to death.

The second half of the title should also come as no surprise, though. And there’s a new report to back it up [here's a link to the actual report]. The man in question is Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of setting fire to his house that killed his children in 1991. The new report states that Texas fire marshals had no basis to conclude that the fire was set intentionally and in all likelihood was an accident. Willingham was executed in 2004, maintaining his innocence to the end.

Among [Craig] Beyler’s key findings: that investigators failed to examine all of the electrical outlets and appliances in the Willinghams’ house in the small Texas town of Corsicana, did not consider other potential causes for the fire, came to conclusions that contradicted witnesses at the scene, and wrongly concluded Willingham’s injuries could not have been caused as he said they were.

The state fire marshal on the case, Beyler concluded in his report, had “limited understanding” of fire science. The fire marshal “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created,” he wrote.

The marshal’s findings, he added, “are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”

And it isn’t Beyler alone. Nine of the nation’s top fire scientists reviewed the Willingham case and concluded that “the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson.”

And that’s not all. There was some other evidence of his guilt: jailhouse snitch testimony. That doyen of reliable information. To paraphrase Radley Balko, junk science and a jailhouse snitch do not a reliable conviction make.

Good job Texas. Good job death penalty advocates.