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Monday, April 09, 2007

CNN's Anderson Cooper to Air Report on Cameron Willingham Tonight

CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” which airs at 9 p.m. Central time (check your local listings) is expected to air an investigative piece on Cameron Todd Willingham tonight. The report may be preempted if another important news story breaks today.

From Cooper's blog:

Cameron Todd Willingham was just 23 when he was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three little girls - 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins, Kameron and Karmon.

Willingham told police he tried to save his girls, who all died in the 1991 fire at the family's Corsicana, Texas home, but fire investigators say clues at the scene told them he'd actually set the fire. He was convicted of arson homicide.

But today, some leading fire investigators around the country say the old method of determining whether or not a fire was arson is outdated and unreliable. Pour patterns on the floor are no longer considered proof an accelerant was used, they say. There is a newly understood phenomenon called "flashover" that can cause such patterns without an accelerant ever being introduced.


Cameron Todd Willingham is one of three cases that have come to light in recent years of innocent people being executed by Texas. The Chicago Tribune broke the Willingham story in 2004 and followed up in 2006.

Accompanied by 300 supporters standing outside the gates of the Texas Governor's Mansion, family members of Cameron Todd Willingham delivered a letter to Gov Perry on October 28, 2006 asking him to stop executions and investigate the case of their step son/uncle to determine if he was wrongfully executed. Eugenia Willingham slipped the letter, along with a copy of an article from the Chicago Tribune that concluded that her stepson was probably innocent, through the bars of the front gate of the mansion and left it lying on the walkway leading to the front door of the mansion. A DPS trooper on duty refused to take the letter, so Eugenia left it on the walkway. According to a Public Information Request sent to Perry by TMN, we know that his staff later retrieved the letter and delivered it to Perry's office, however he never responded to Willingham's family.

Below is a copy of the letter
The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
Austin, Texas

October 28, 2006

Dear Governor Perry,

We are the family of Cameron Todd Willingham. Our names are Eugenia Willingham, Trina Willingham Quinton and Joshua Easley. Todd was an innocent person executed by Texas on February 17, 2004. We have come to Austin today from Ardmore, Oklahoma to stand outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion and attempt to deliver this letter to you in person, because we want to make sure that you know about Todd’s innocence and to urge you to stop executions in Texas and determine why innocent people are being executed in Texas.

Todd was not the only innocent person who has been executed in Texas. There have been reports in the media that Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna were also innocent people who were executed in Texas. It is too late to save Todd’s life or the lives of Ruben Cantu or Carlos De Luna, but it is not too late to save other innocent people from being executed. We are here today to urge you to be the leader that Texas needs in order to make sure that Texas never executes another innocent person. There is a crisis in Texas regarding the death penalty and we ask you to address the crisis. Because the public can no longer be certain that Texas is not executing innocent people, we urge you to stop all executions.

Strapped to a gurney in Texas' death chamber, just moments from his execution for setting a fire that killed his three daughters, our son/uncle, Todd Willingham, declared his innocence one last time, saying "I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do." Todd is now dead and can no longer speak for himself, so we have come to Austin to speak for him.

Before Todd’s execution, you were given a report from a prominent fire scientist questioning the conviction, but you did not stop the execution. The author of the report, Gerald Hurst, has said, "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire."

Another report issued in 2006 by a panel of national arson experts brought together by the Innocence Project concluded that the fire that killed Todd’s three daughters was an accident. The report says that Todd’s case is very similar to the case of Ernest Willis, who was convicted of arson murder and sentenced to death in 1987. Willis served 17 years in prison before he was exonerated in 2004 – the same year Todd was executed. The report says that neither of the fires which Todd and Ernest Willis were convicted of setting were arson. The report notes that the evidence and forensic analysis in the Willingham and Willis cases "were the same," and that "each and every one" of the forensic interpretations that state experts made in both men's trials have been proven scientifically invalid. In other words, Todd was executed based on “junk science”.

Please look into our son/uncle’s case and ask the District Attorney in Corsicana to reopen the investigation into the crime for which my brother was wrongfully executed. You should also establish an Innocence Commission in the next session of the Texas Legislature that could investigate my brother’s case, as well as other cases of possible wrongful executions, such as Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna.

Please ensure that no other family suffers the tragedy of seeing one of their loved ones wrongfully executed. Please enact a moratorium on executions and create a special blue ribbon commission to study the administration of the death penalty in Texas. Texas also needs a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases. Such an office will go a long way towards preventing innocent people from being executed. A moratorium will ensure that no other innocent people are executed while the system is being studied and reforms implemented.

We look forward to hearing from you and we pledge to work with you to ensure that executions of innocent people are stopped.

Yours sincerely,

Eugenia Willingham
Stepmother of Cameron Todd Willingham who raised him from the age of 13 months

Trina Willingham Quinton
Niece of Cameron Todd Willingham

Joshua Easley
Nephew of Cameron Todd Willingham

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