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August 5, 2014

Another round of heated debate over guilt of executed Cameron Todd Willingham

CNN has this lengthy new article reviewing some new developments in the long-running debate over the prospect that Texas killed an innocent man when it executed Cameron Todd Willingham in February 2004.  Here are excerpts from the CNN piece:

More than a decade after his execution, Cameron Todd Willingham is still a pawn in the debate over the death penalty.

Opponents of capital punishment say Willingham's is a clear case of an inmate being wrongfully executed, while the original prosecutor and state of Texas have been steadfast in their assertion that Willingham should be no one's cause célèbre.

"Willingham was a psychopathic killer who murdered his three children," John H. Jackson, the former Navarro County prosecutor who handled the case in 1992, wrote in an e-mail. "He submitted to a polygraph with predictable results, he confessed the murders to his wife, the trial evidence established two prior incidents when he tried to kill his children in utero by vicious attacks on his wife."

Willingham was executed in February 2004 after being found guilty in an arson that killed his children, 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron.  His family has fought to have his name cleared ever since.

The Innocence Project filed a grievance Monday with the State Bar of Texas, asking that it investigate the now-retired prosecutor.  The grievance alleges Jackson "fabricated and concealed evidence," including documents indicating that a jailhouse informant received special treatment in exchange for his testimony, which Jackson and the informant both claimed was not true during the original trial....

A story in The Washington Post on Sunday, written by the Marshall Project, a journalistic group focusing on criminal justice matters, said Willingham's case is especially important to death penalty opponents because it could provide the first case showing "conclusively that an innocent man was put to death in the modern era of capital punishment."...

Appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, declined to stop Willingham's execution, yet in his final words, he claimed to be "an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit." Since his conviction, the science employed by investigators to determine that the fatal fire was an arson, as well as a post-conviction claim by his ex-wife, Stacy Kuykendall, that Willingham confessed to her, have been matters of debate.

The Marshall Project story reports that informant Johnny Webb, whose testimony was integral to convicting Willingham, now says he lied on the witness stand in exchange for favors from Jackson. The story also alleges that correspondence between Jackson and Johnny Webb indicate the two were in cahoots. Jackson told CNN the letters are being misconstrued....

Little seems certain in Willingham's case, outside the fact that death penalty opponents and proponents staunchly disagree over his guilt. Disagreement has been a mark of the case, as Willingham's own defense attorney told CNN in 2009 that he thought his client was guilty, while one of the jurors who convicted him expressed doubts.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has defended his decision not to stay Willingham's execution, calling him a "monster." Meanwhile, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said in the Monday news release that not only should the verdict be called into question, but so should the man who prosecuted Willingham.

The new Marshall Project report on the Willingham case is available at this link, and Kent Scheidegger at Crime & Consequences has collected his writing about the case in this new post.

August 5, 2014 at 11:21 PM | Permalink


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Kent Scheidegger will not allow me to participate in his discussions unless I change my tone. I have respectfully declined. He is missing out on the devastating pro and con arguments of someone whose high school education has not been erased by the law school indoctrination.

The error rate of any human enterprise is not a valid argument against that entire enterprise. Otherwise shut down transportation, medicine, agriculture, mining. It is an argument to analyze the multiple factors that converge to produce a catastrophic failure, and to patiently work to change the system to prevent each. Example, stop pressuring the police to solve crime so they may stop implanting false memories in hapless saps they rounded up to end political interference.

I have suggested, 1) that the Rules of Criminal Evidence require physical corroboration of any eyewitness testimony, since many of them are police implanted false memories. The idea of a direct memory of a day years ago is also preposterous; 2) appellate review should be conducted by experienced investigators for verdict error, rather than by know nothing lawyer dumbasses looking for legal loopholes; and 3) with 123D, it does not matter if the innocence rate is 100% of the 3rd violent offense, one is still dispatching a bad guy and preventing hundreds of future violent crimes and $millions in damages just from the one person. This is not any instance of supernatural future forecasting. The punishment is for past crimes. The benefit is in the future.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 6, 2014 2:05:18 AM


Perhaps you are blessed by not being permitted to post on that particular one-trick pony, big government pandering and non-conservative blog

Posted by: albeed | Aug 6, 2014 12:02:00 PM

Albeed: They are missing out on the abolitionist devastating arguments from my intact high school education.

On the other hand, I have even handedly provided devastating anti-death penalty arguments no abolitionist has ever thought of. For example, the cruelty of the set date, often repeatedly; how would Kent like it if he were repeatedly pranked about his death date? 2)the Werther Effect, where an execution results in dozens of suicides and murders around the world. Shouldn't Kent be concerned that his advocacy may be killing dozens of unfortunates every time carried out? And finally, 3) any utterance about general deterrence, or "sending messages" should result in a mistrial, since it is unfair to punish a defendant for the speculative future crimes of a person he has never met. If any abolitionist has ever made these arguments in any appeal, I would appreciate the citation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 7, 2014 5:46:53 AM

You just have to love CNN and that yellow journalism...Just two weeks ago it lead and had breaking news for two days on the BOTCHED execution in AZ...all of CNN was in an uproar article galore...then we have a 5 minutes execution in Missouri last night and not one word...not one story...no articles...no breaking news... so who cares about an OLD story like this.... its recycled event that was already proven false.

Posted by: DeanO | Aug 7, 2014 6:37:46 AM

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