May 8, 2006
Four of the country’s top arson experts released a report on May 2 showing that an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed by the state of Texas.
Willingham’s three children were killed in a fire in Corsicana, Texas in 1992. His wife had gone out of the house and he testified he was awakened by a child’s screams. He got out alive but the children died.
The state’s deputy fire marshal and the local town’s assistant fire chief testified that the fire was caused by arson. Neither had any scientific training – which didn’t stop them from posing as experts and railroading Willingham onto death row. They said that cracked glass found after the fire could only have been caused by a chemical accelerant. In fact, arson experts say that cracked glass is often caused by water firemen spray on hot glass. A prosecution witness in the trial also insisted that dropped cigarettes rarely cause fires; in reality, they are the main cause of fire deaths.
Another Texas man sentenced to death for arson, Ernest Ray Willis, was released from prison in 2004 after 17 years and given $430,000 by the state for wrongful imprisonment. Prosecutors in his trial had used the same “evidence” as in the Willingham case. But Willingham was put to death because the courts and the Texas governor relied on technicalities to ignore a report which also showed his innocence.
Texas leads the country for the number of people in prison for arson, 666 in 2002. And Texas has accounted for more than a third of the 1,020 people executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
There was a murder that occurred in the Willingham case. Willingham himself was murdered – by the prosecutors, all the Texas courts who upheld his conviction, and the governor who let his execution go through despite having in hand a specialist’s arson report saying the testimony against him was completely wrong.
It comes as no surprise that a state that leads the country in executions was willing to imprison and execute innocent people for arson.