Monday, February 16, 2004

Todd Willingham Faces Execution For Killing Children

Feb. 16, 2004

Texas Man Faces Execution For Killing Children----Father To Die Tuesday
For Setting Fire That Killed His 3 Daughters

When firefighters arrived at the burning 5-bedroom house on Corsicana's
south side, the man who lived there was outside.

Neighbors said they saw Cameron Willingham outdoors even before the blaze
engulfed the place, according to testimony at Willingham's trial.

"He was engaged in pushing his car out of the way so it wouldn't be
scorched by the flames," John Jackson, the prosecutor in the subsequent
criminal case, recalled.

Inside, Willingham's 3 young children -- 2-year-old Amber, and 1-year-old
twins, Karmon Diane and Kameron Marie -- were dying. It was 2 days before
Christmas 1991.

Willingham was charged with setting the blaze that killed the 3
youngsters, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

His execution was set for Tuesday night.

"In my opinion, Willingham was an utterly sociopathic individual," said
Jackson, the former Navarro County district attorney and now a state
district judge. "He had a lifestyle that really didn't include care and
nurturing of children. And, in my opinion, the children were just an
impediment to his lifestyle."

Willingham, now 36, insisted in a recent interview on death row he wasn't
responsible for his daughters' deaths.

"I was the only person at home and that was their way of thinking," he
said of the charges against him. The resulting trial was "a joke," he

"Any man who can look at me in the eye and say the justice system is not a
farce is a liar. All they're going to do is kill an innocent man for
something he didn't do. The most distressing thing is the state of Texas
will kill an innocent man and doesn't care they're making a mistake."

Evidence at his trial showed an accelerant, believed to be charcoal
lighter fluid, was used to ignite the floors, a front threshold to the
house and on a concrete porch. A fire marshal testified the placement of
the accelerant was designed to impede any rescue efforts by firefighters.

Willingham suggested a lantern lamp dumped fluid when a shelf collapsed
inside the house and caught fire or his oldest daughter, who was
"fascinated with everything," accidentally set off the blaze.

"Either that or someone came in with the intent to kill me and the
children," he said from prison. "The arson investigator was a liar."

"He really just wanted to get rid of them," said Pat Batchelor, who was
Navarro County district attorney at the time. "He had a burn on his arm
from charcoal lighter fluid."

Willingham, a native of Ardmore, Okla., said his wife went out shopping
and left him with the children. He was asleep late in the morning when the
2-year-old woke him with her cry for him. He saw smoke, jumped out of bed
and told her to get out of the house, he said. Willingham said he tried to
get to the twins' room, couldn't get past the flames and ran to get help.
His house had no phone.

"The only way for me to get back into the house was to jump back into the
flames," he said. "I wouldn't do that."

Trial testimony showed he expressed no grief over the loss of the
children. Neighbors said he "hollered about his car" and a firefighter
testified how Willingham was upset over the loss of a dart board.

"I died 12 years ago," Willingham said from death row. "At 11:51 a.m.,
Dec. 23, 1991. That's when I died."

Willingham's wife initially supported him and testified on his behalf at
his 1992 trial. But Stacy Kuykendall told the Corsicana Daily Sun earlier
this month that after reviewing case and meeting with her former husband
in prison recently, she doesn't buy his version of the events that day.

"It was hard for me to sit in front of him," she said. "He basically took
my life away from me. He took my kids away from me."

Willingham, who would be the seventh Texas inmate to receive lethal
injection this year and the third in seven days, had a history of violence
and a record of felony and misdemeanor convictions both as an adult and
juvenile. Evidence at his trial showed he was abusive to his family and
once beat his pregnant wife with a telephone to try to force a

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case. The Texas
attorney general's office was unaware of any appeals pending. A clemency
request was rejected Friday on a 15-0 vote by the Texas Board of Pardons
and Paroles.

(source: Associated Press)

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