Law in Popular Culture

Defense Lawyer Says Executed Client Was Guilty in Texas Arson

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Weighing in on the side of his client’s former wife and in-laws, a criminal defense lawyer who represented a man executed in a controversial Texas death-penalty case now says that defendant Cameron Todd Willingham set a 1991 fire that killed his children.

“There was no question whatsoever that he was guilty,” attorney David Martin tells CNN in a videotape of a recent interview that is linked to a Concurring Opinions post about the case.

Martin’s comments, long after the representation ended, have sparked further debate in the controversial case. An earlier investigative report by the Chicago Tribune cast doubt on the validity of expert evidence of arson that helped convict Willingham of murder. He was executed in 2004 after multiple appeals.

Martin “repeatedly emphasizes that he conducted tests that inculpated his client,” states a post in the Legal Ethics Forum. “I can’t think of why the lawyer would be entitled to reveal that to the world. It relates to the representation and is detrimental to the client.”

The Dallas Morning News gives a detailed account of the evidence in the Willingham case in a lengthy newspaper article published Sunday. It points out that expert evaluation of the alleged arson in Willingham’s case relied on methods that are now considered outdated and of dubious value, but also reports that expert material used by the Tribune for its article doesn’t exclude arson as a cause of the fire.

Willingham’s last words as he was executed, the newspaper recounts, were profanities directed at the mother of his children.

Additional coverage: “Expert Hits Arson Finding in Case that Led to Defendant’s Execution” “Did Man Confess Before Much-Debated Execution? Former Wife May Think So”

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