News & Politics

Texas Executed An Innocent Man

The tragic case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was falsely accused of setting a fire that killed his children -- and then executed for it.

Editor's Note: This is an Innocence Project Media Advisory

"There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person has been executed. The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again." -- Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck.
NEW YORK; August 31, 2009 -- An exhaustive new investigative report shows that Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004, was innocent. The report comes three years after the Innocence Project released analysis from some of the nation's leading forensic experts who found that the central evidence against Willingham was not valid. The Innocence Project also obtained public records showing that Texas officials ignored this evidence in the days leading up to Willingham's execution.
Willingham was convicted of arson murder in 1992 and was executed in February 2004. His three young children died at a fire in the family's Corsicana, Texas, home. At Willingham's trial, forensic experts testified that evidence showed the fire was intentionally set. A jailhouse informant also testified against Willingham, and other circumstantial evidence was used against him.
A 16,000-word report in the September 7 issue of the New Yorker deconstructs every facet of the case, finding that none of the evidence against Willingham was valid. Prior to the New Yorker's investigative report, by David Grann, the forensic science had been debunked as completely erroneous (including in a 2004 investigative report in the Chicago Tribune), but the other evidence was never examined closely.
"The New Yorker's investigation lays out this case in its totality and leads to the inescapable conclusion that Willingham was innocent. There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person has been executed," said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. "The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again."
"As long as our system of justice makes mistakes -- including the ultimate mistake -- we cannot continue executing people," Scheck said. "This case also highlights serious problems with forensic science in this country. The vast majority of forensic scientists are honest, capable, hard-working professionals, but we aren't giving them the tools they need to do the job. Congress needs to create a National Institute of Forensic Science that can spark research to determine the accuracy of forensic disciplines and set standards for how our system of justice uses science."

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