Sentencing / Post-Conviction
Family of executed man seeks investigation into possible innocence
Posted Sep 27, 2013 2:00 PM CST
By Mark Hansen
Corrected: The family of a Texas man who was executed in 2004 for the murder of his three children is asking Gov. Rick Perry to order an investigation into whether the man should be posthumously pardoned.
Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted in 1992 on three counts of first-degree murder for intentionally setting a fire at his Corsicana home in 1991 that killed his three daughters.
Willingham's family filed a posthumous pardon petition last year before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. An amended petition filed Friday on behalf of the family by the Innocence Project presented newly discovered evidence of possible perjury and prosecutorial misconduct in the case.
The Innocence Project says it has uncovered evidence that the former prosecutor who tried Willingham had elicited false testimony from jailhouse informant Johnny Webb—who testified that Willingham had confessed to setting the fire that killed his daughters—and then lobbied for the inmate's early release. It also alleges that the prosecutor failed to disclose prior to Willingham's execution that Webb had recanted his testimony.
"This is a terrible thing to not only execute somebody who was innocent; this is an individual who lost his three children," Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, told the Texas Tribune.
Willingham's relatives were joined Friday at a press conference at the Texas state Capital in Austin by exoneree Michael Morton, after which they delivered a letter to Perry asking for a meeting to explain why an investigation is needed.
"Todd's dying wish was that we help clear his name, and we can't let this go until the state acknowledges the grave injustice that Todd suffered," Willingham's stepmother, Eugenia, said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
John H. Jackson, the former county prosecutor who tried Willingham, called the Innocence Project's claims a "complete fabrication." Jackson told the Texas Tribune that Webb sent him a letter explaining that his recantation was untruthful, and that he had written it under pressure from prison gang members who supported Willingham.
"I've not lost any sleep" over the case, he told the Texas Tribune.
ABAJournal.com: "Defense Lawyer Says Executed Client Was Guilty in Texas Arson" (2009)
ABAJournal.com: "Did Man Confess Before Much-Debated Execution? Former Wife May Think So" (2009)
ABAJournal.com: "Expert Hits Arson Finding in Case that Led to Defendant’s Execution" (2009)
Corrected on Sept. 30. The article should have stated that Willingham was convicted in 1992 of setting a house on fire in 1991.