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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Texas Executes Todd Willingham for Setting Fire That Killed His Three Young Children in 1991

The Associated Press

HUNTSVILLE, Texas Feb. 17 — Spewing profanities at his ex-wife standing a few feet away, a man was executed Tuesday for the deaths of his three young daughters in a fire two days before Christmas 1991. 

"The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit," Cameron Willingham said. "I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do."

He expressed love to someone named Gabby, and then addressed his former wife, Stacy Kuykendall, who watched through a window eight feet away. Using obscenity-laced language, Willingham said repeatedly he hoped she would "rot in hell" and attempted to maneuver his hand, strapped at the wrist, into an obscene gesture.

Kuykendall showed no reaction. She declined to speak to reporters.

Willingham, 36, was pronounced dead at 6:20 p.m., seven minutes after the lethal dose began flowing through his veins.

Willingham, a former auto mechanic and high school dropout, previously acknowledged he wasn't a good husband, but insisted he wasn't responsible for the blaze that killed 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron while their mother was away.

When firefighters arrived at the burning house in Corsicana, Willingham was outside. At his trial, neighbors said he was outdoors even before flames engulfed the building and that he was concerned about his car getting scorched. Prosecutors presented evidence of an accelerant believed to be charcoal lighter fluid, and contended Willingham just wanted to get rid of the children.

He was the seventh convicted killer executed in Texas this year and the third in seven days.

The U.S. Supreme Court in November refused to review his case and a late appeal Tuesday was also rejected by the Supreme Court. Last week, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 15-0 to deny a clemency request.

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