Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Call Governor Perry to Protest his Shocking Cancellation of Meeting on Todd Willingham Case and his Replacement of Chair of Forensic Science Commision

Texas Moratorium Network was planning to attend the meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission on Friday and hold a demonstration to "Shout it from the Rooftops" that Todd Willingham was innocent. Now, Perry has canceled the meeting and replaced the Commission's chair and some other members.

Call the Governor's office to STRONGLY protest his cancellation of the meeting and his replacement of the chair of the commission.

(512) 463-1782

Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

From the Houston Chronicle

In a surprise move, Gov. Rick Perry today appointed two new members to a state commission investigating case of a Corsicana man who some believe was wrongly executed for murdering his children — forcing the cancellation of a meeting on the case scheduled for Friday.

Named to head the Texas Forensic Science Commission was John Bradley, district attorney in Williamson County. Bradley cancelled Friday's meeting at which the panel was to accept fire expert Craig Beyler's analysis of arson investigators' work in the deadly December 1991 house fire.

Three children perished in the blaze. Their father, Cameron Todd Willingham, was convicted of capital murder and executed.

Bradley, who has been his county's chief prosecutor since December 2001, said he called off Friday's meeting because he didn't have adequate time to study the arson case.

Beyler's report was extremely critical of the investigations by Corsicana and state arson investigators, concluding they based their arson ruling on outdated and sloppy procedures.

Beyler's was the third review to fault the arson investigators.

Outgoing commission chairman, Sam Bassett, an Austin defense lawyer, expressed “disappointment” at Perry's timing in the naming of new commissioners, but noted, “I understand that I serve at the pleasure of Gov. Perry.”

Also replaced were commission members Alan Levy, head of the Tarrant County District Attorney's criminal division, and Aliece Watts, quality director at Euless-based Integrated Forensic Laboratories.

Perry named Norma Farley, chief forensic pathologist for Cameron and Hidalgo counties to the panel, and will name a third member in the near future.

A spokeswoman for the commission, which is headquartered at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, said the outgoing members' two-year terms technically expired on Sept. 1.

Spokesmen for Perry's office did not offer immediate comments on the timing of the appointments.

Levy, who, like Bassett, had served four years on the panel, called Perry's timing on the appointments “unfortunate.”

“It will raise suspicions whether they are justified or not,” he said. “This is a very important case. What this is going to do is raise the temperature, and that will not be a good thing.”

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Austin Human Rights Commission Passes Resolution Calling for a Moratorium on Executions

Monday night, the Austin Human Rights Commission unanimously approved a resolution brought to them by Texas Moratorium Network calling for a moratorium on executions and the creation of a Capital Punishment Study Commission. The resolution gathered momentum after the recent news that the fire in the case of Todd Willingham was not arson, meaning Texas executed an innocent person. The resolution urges the full Austin City Council to pass a similar resolution.

We would like to thank the members of the Austin Human Rights Commission for passing the resolution.

One of the reasons the Commission chose to take a stand on this issue is that local governments can face lawsuits from people who are wrongfully convicted. For instance, the City of Austin had to settle separate lawsuits totaling more than $14 million in 2003 filed by Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa. They are two innocent men who spent 12 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted for a 1988 Austin murder they did not commit.

The Travis County Commissioners Court and the El Paso County Commissioners Court have also passed resolutions calling for a moratorium. In total, 151 local governments across the nation have passed moratorium resolutions.

Here is a link to an article in The Daily Texan about the resolution's approval.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reginald Blanton's mother, Anna Terrell, delivers powerful plea for the life of her son

Reginald Blanton's mother, Anna Terrell, delivers powerful plea for the life of her son at a rally at the Texas Capitol on Sept 26, 2009. Reginald Blanton is scheduled to be executed in Texas on October 27, 2009. If you can not see the video below, click here to watch it on YouTube.

Click here to sign the petition to urge Texas to admit Todd Willingham was innocent and to suspend all executions.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Medical Examiners Often Conduct Autopsies Carelessly, Resulting in Miscarriages of Justice

In the first of a multi-part series in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, reporter Yamil Berard writes in "With little oversight in Texas, autopsies often careless" that lack of training and lack of oversight over Texas medical examiners who conduct autopsies creates a ripe situation for inaccurate forensic conclusions that can result in innocent people being convicted and even sent to death row.


A woman was on her way to Death Row in Alabama after a medical examiner now working in Texas said she had suffocated her newborn. The sad truth, other experts said, was that the baby was stillborn.

An Austin baby sitter has spent years on Death Row for a baby’s murder. The medical examiner whose testimony helped put her there now says the baby’s death may have been an accident.

The medical examiner is the doctor-detective who is supposed to extract truth from the hodgepodge of details about a death. By examining body tissues, organs and fluids, gathering data from a crime scene and examining lab results, the medical examiner provides insight into how and why someone has died. Those judgments are of consequence for violent or suspicious deaths, as well as for unexplained deaths and those that might result from negligence or improper care.

County officials say the state’s system works well by unraveling questions surrounding death at a reasonable cost to taxpayers. In the courtroom, much of the work, they say, stands up to scrutiny.

But over the years, Texas medical examiners have misidentified bodies, botched examinations and had to do a double take on cases of individuals later exonerated by law enforcement. That has opened the door for innocent men and women to go to prison and killers to go free. The slapdash work of some medical examiners could also allow public health threats, wrongful deaths and preventable medical errors to go undetected, experts warn.

"The work of the medical examiner’s office is just so slipshod," said Tommy Turner, the former special prosecutor who put a Lubbock medical examiner behind bars for falsifying autopsies.

Critics say the medical examiner’s office is "the last bastion of junk science." The problems, they say, are similar to those that plagued the state’s crime labs for years: lack of performance standards, poor documentation, a shortage of qualified personnel and lax oversight.

"The state does not keep track of MEs in any shape, form or fashion," Bexar County Chief Medical Examiner Randall Frost said. The state doesn’t even know how many certified forensic pathologists work in government offices, he added.

And a medical examiner doesn’t have to be trained in forensics or pass a specialty exam to do an autopsy. All that’s required is a state medical license. That’s akin to having your family doctor do brain surgery, says a growing chorus of medical examiners.
One significant weakness: Texas law doesn’t require medical examiners to take notes, produce body diagrams or photograph evidence.

Such documentation is essential, said Dr. Ray Fernandez, chief medical examiner for Nueces County. Without it, a medical examiner can’t back up an autopsy in court or show the validity of conclusions if challenged.

"A good report is based on how well that person documents their observations, so that another pathologist looking at the photographs, the diagrams, the report — looking at all of it — can at least assess the accuracy of what was done," said Dr. LeRoy Riddick, a retired forensic pathologist who is a professor at the University of South Alabama. "The interpretations are something else."

In one of the state’s most high-profile cases — the 1991 murders of four teenage girls at an Austin yogurt shop — pathologist Tommy Brown, who did the autopsies for Travis County, told jurors that he did not take crime scene photographs but relied on those taken by police.

He also said that "a lot of times" information he dictated didn’t get into his autopsy reports or he didn’t dictate information that should have been included. Two men convicted in the slayings, based largely on their confessions, were released this summer after new DNA tests showed that another man could have been involved.

Bayardo told the Star-Telegram that he never took notes because he feared they would be subpoenaed.

"That’s always a problem," he said.

Instead, he would create an autopsy report by dictating information on tape.

In another case that drew in the Tarrant medical examiner’s office, capital murder charges against a young couple were dismissed two years after their baby’s death when some evidence apparently disappeared.

That case offered up a merry-go-round of opinions.

Bayardo declared the cause of death undetermined. Peerwani, who was asked for a separate opinion, released a report saying that the baby died of head trauma and that the case was a homicide.

Bayardo questioned how Peerwani — who didn’t examine the brain because it was apparently misplaced — came to that conclusion.

"How can you say she died of head injuries when you have no brain?" Bayardo said in a recent interview.

Peerwani has said he had slides with brain specimens and sent them to a specialist for review. The charges were dropped when the slides could not be found.

In a recent interview, Peerwani supported his preliminary finding of homicide: "A kid that little doesn’t have so many rib fractures."

The Texas Medical Board did take action after whistle-blowers complained about former Harris County Medical Examiner Joye Carter. Initially, it sought to revoke or suspend her license after finding that she used an unlicensed pathologist to conduct hundreds of autopsies. Eventually, though, she was fined $1,000.

Questions about her work continued to be raised.

Numerous pathologists, including Dr. Lloyd White of the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office, have questioned Carter’s findings in the slaying of Conroe college student Melissa Trotter.

The time of the woman’s death was a critical piece of evidence. Carter said the young woman had been dead for 25 days or more when her body was found north of Houston. That helped persuade a jury to convict an ex-con. He could not have committed the crime if the woman had been dead a shorter time, because he was in jail for traffic violations.

But forensic pathologists testifying for the defense pointed to evidence that they said showed the body could not have been in the forest for more than two weeks. The young woman’s weight before she died was just 4 pounds more than when Carter performed the autopsy. Had Trotter been dead for 25 days, her body would have been in more advanced stages of decomposition and weighed much less, the pathologists said.

Dr. Glenn Larkin, a former medical examiner in Pennsylvania, also called Carter’s autopsy "sloppy," "irresponsible" and "misleading," noting that key medical records were missing and that some tissue samples had disappeared.

After the criticism, Carter signed an affidavit agreeing that Trotter could not have been dead for more than two weeks. She blamed problems on not having key evidence during the autopsy. A video of the crime scene and medical records were not available to her, she wrote.

Carter did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The convicted man’s execution was postponed, but prosecutors are standing by Carter’s original autopsy report. The defense team, clamoring for the appeals court to intervene, points out that the state is rejecting opinions from some of the very pathologists prosecutors have relied on in other criminal cases.

"If all [these] medical examiners are all wrong on Melissa Trotter, how can they be right on all other cases?" said private criminal investigator Tina Church.

"There’s no room for error when somebody’s life depends on their findings."
Click here to read the entire article.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Perry Ignoring Science

The Dallas Morning News has an editorial today responding to Governor Perry's remarks this week on the Willingham case when he mocked the reports that a finding of arson in the Willingham fire could not be sustained by scientific analysis: "I'm familiar with the latter-day supposed experts on the arson side of it," Perry said, making quotation marks with his fingers to underscore his skepticism. Even without proof that the fire was arson, he added, the court records he reviewed before the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 showed "clear and compelling, overwhelming evidence that he was in fact the murderer of his children."

So far, none of the candidates running to replace Perry as governor has made any public remarks on the Willingham case.

The editorial in the DMN points out that the public will have an opportunity to make public comments to the Texas Forensic Science Commission at their meeting next Friday, Oct 2 in Irving. Members of TMN and some of our friends plan to attend that meeting.

Here is the DMN editorial:

When a nationally respected fire engineer rebuked an arson investigation that sent a Texas man to his death, the country took notice.

The question of whether our state executed an innocent man spurred a national discussion, as media outlets from Nightline to The New Yorker explored whether the fiery deaths of Cameron Todd Willingham's three young children were a tragic accident or capital murder. A growing number of experts have rejected the finding that the fire was arson, arguing that investigators relied on folklore and junk science to reach that unsupported conclusion.

Most recently, an expert hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission issued a scathing report that detailed the many failings of the original arson-murder investigation. Dr. Craig L. Beyler wrote that investigators' conclusions could not be supported by modern science.

Beyler's emphatic rejection of the arson conclusion, coupled with similar findings by other forensic experts, have rightly compelled many to take a hard look at whether Texas got it wrong. On Friday, the Forensic Science Commission will take up Beyler's report and decide how to proceed in this case.

But Gov. Rick Perry has not let expert reports or modern science shake his belief that Willingham must be a murderer. So certain is the governor that he's delivered his own guilty verdict without bothering to wait for the Forensic Science Commission's own conclusions in the case.

Perry flippantly dismissed the findings of "supposed experts." Just in case his sarcasm wasn't evident, he added air quotes with his fingers to dismiss the nationally respected scientists.

The governor says he's seen nothing that would cause him to question this capital murder conviction. That's disappointing.

While it's difficult to say definitively whether a dead man was actually innocent, the prosecution's original case appears to be unraveling. At the very least, Willingham would have sought a new trial and a chance to allow a jury to hear the more scientifically sound findings.

Prosecutors have said that other evidence – such as Willingham's strange behavior at the time of the fire – proves his guilt. But if they could not credibly argue that this was arson, how did he kill his family?

The very foundation of this case has been debunked, so it requires a leap in logic to argue that without proof of arson, Willingham somehow still was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Just as advances in DNA science have shed new light on physical evidence from old cases, improved scientific methods have helped experts understand how fire behaves and have provided new insights into arson investigations. To ignore these advances is irresponsible and risks the possibility of the state making a fatal error.

The governor would be wise to allow the commission to finish its work before making such definitive determinations. And as Perry considers this case, he should not allow reflexive certainty to trump science.Meeting this week

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas. On the agenda: a review and discussion of a new report that rebukes an arson investigation that led to Cameron Todd Willingham's capital murder conviction. The meeting will include a public comment period.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jeanette Popp, Mother of Murder Victim, to Speak at 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Jeanette Popp, mother of a murder victim, has agreed to come and speak at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24.

Jeanette published a new book this year called. Mortal Justice: A True Story of Murder and Vindication. It can be bought on Amazon.

Her book tells the story of her daughter Nancy's murder, the wrongful conviction of two innocent men Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, their eventual exoneration, the subsequent conviction of the real killer, and Jeanette's long activism against the death penalty, including a jailhouse meeting with the real killer and her successful efforts to prevent him from being sentenced to death.

In her new book, Jeanette includes an account of a jailhouse meeting with the man who actually killed her daughter before his trial because she wanted to convince him to take a plea bargain and accept life in prison istead of going to trial and risking the death penalty. In the jailhouse meeting, she told him, "Mr Marino, you know I don't want you executed?"

"Ive heard that," he answered stoically.

"It's the truth. I don't want you to die."

He shook his head and told her, "Mrs Popp, I'd rather be executed than spend the rest of my life in prison."

A recent Dallas Morning News article told Jeanette's story:


Mother of '88 murder victim says her faith in justice system shattered after exonerations

She thought justice served in daughter's case, until exonerations

12:00 AM CST on Sunday, February 24, 2008

By DIANE JENNINGS / The Dallas Morning News

When Nancy DePriest was raped and murdered, her mother, Jeanette Popp, was sure the criminal justice system worked.

Now she's sure it doesn't.

"I don't think we have learned anything," she says almost 20 years later.

Ms. Popp, who now lives in Graham, Texas, sat in the courtroom day after day during the trial of Richard Danziger, who was accused of the sexual assault of her daughter. When Christopher Ochoa falsely confessed to the rape and killing and accused his friend in graphic testimony, "I had to leave the courtroom to throw up," she says.

Mr. Ochoa "was so convincing," she says, that she felt a twinge of sympathy for him because of his apparent remorse.

But Mr. Danziger glared at her during the trial and seemed to be "a bit of a smart aleck," she says.

After the trial, she met with jurors.

"I hugged every one of them," she says. "There wasn't a dry eye in the place. ... I couldn't have thanked them any more for the justice they had given my child.

"I wouldn't have questioned the police or the prosecution," she says. And "the evidence was so overwhelming, so overwhelming."

But on the 12th anniversary of her daughter's death, she watched Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle say on TV that Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger might be innocent. Another man, Achim Josef Marino, had confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence appeared to exonerate Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger.

"My legs just gave way," Ms. Popp says.

"I can't do this again," she remembers sobbing. "Please, God, don't make me do this again."

Prosecutors told her they had been trying for four years to tie all three men to the crime. But the Wisconsin Innocence Project showed there was no connection.When she realized Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger were not guilty, her heart went out to their mothers.

"Chris' mother and Richard's mother lost their child for 12 years, as surely as I lost Nancy," she thought.

She wrote to both men, telling them how sorry she was.

She says she never heard from Mr. Danziger, and when she learned he had been injured in a prison attack, "it almost killed me."

She felt better when she received a letter from Mr. Ochoa.

"You have no business apologizing to me," he wrote. "You didn't do this to me, your family didn't do this to me, your daughter didn't." He blamed police.

Ms. Popp says that at first, she wrestled with the pain Mr. Ochoa's false confession caused her. "The horror that he made me believe my child went through gave me nightmares for 10 years," she says.

She doesn't understand why he confessed or, worse, "how he could have taken Richard with him."

"I wasn't in there," she says. "So I honestly can say I don't understand – but I forgive."

When Mr. Ochoa was released in January 2001, Ms. Popp was in the courtroom with his mother. "My heart just filled with joy," she says.

In a private moment, Mr. Ochoa told her he was "sorry I wasn't strong enough to stand up to the police." She took that as an apology.

Ms. Popp also met with Mr. Marino.

Facing the mother of the woman he killed was tough, Mr. Marino says. There wasn't much he could say, so he kept it simple: "I'm sorry."

But he refused her request that he plead guilty to avoid the strain of another trial. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, was found guilty and received another life sentence.

Ms. Popp asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, because she says she did not want her daughter's memory stained with someone's blood. "I'm not a bleeding heart liberal," she says. "But I do have a heart."

Since the exoneration, she has been an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. That doesn't mean she wants Mr. Marino to ever walk free.

"I'm a vengeful mother," she says. "I want him to lay on that cot in his cell every night and wonder if somebody is going to come and rape him. I want him to stay in that Texas prison he hates so much."

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Execution Canceled for Thursday Sept 24 - Kenneth Mosley Gets Stay

Kenneth Mosley has received a stay of his execution that was scheduled for Thursday, Sept 24.

From the Houston Chronicle:

The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday night stopped the scheduled execution of Texas death row inmate Kenneth Mosley a day before he was to receive lethal injection for the fatal shooting of a suburban Dallas police officer.

The court agreed to halt the lethal injection until it resolves an Alabama death penalty case that Mosley's attorney said could affect his case.

The Alabama case, to be heard by the high court in November, centers on whether a trial lawyer was constitutionally deficient in failing to raise objections during the punishment phase of the trial.

Mosley's attorneys have raised similar claims, saying his trial attorneys were deficient for not objecting to victim impact testimony from the officer's wife and for not calling witnesses to testify about Mosley's drug and alcohol addictions.

Mosley, 51, was condemned for the February 1997 shooting death of Garland Officer Michael David Moore. Moore was responding to a 911 call about a robbery at a bank.

One of four bullets to hit Moore struck over the top edge of his protective vest. Mosley was shot in the wrist by another officer waiting outside and was arrested in the parking lot. Authorities found he was carrying a holdup note.

"As far as him committing the actual crime, it was open and shut," said Jason January, a former Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case. "Plus we had a videotape of the event taking place and eyewitnesses."

Mosley declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his scheduled punishment. He had an extensive criminal record he blamed on drug addiction. Evidence at his trial showed he sexually assaulted a woman, was arrested for possession of marijuana and illegal knives, got busted for stealing merchandise from a Home Depot and then returning the items for cash refunds and for robbing a Home Depot.

At the time of the shooting, he was wanted for a fast-food restaurant robbery five days earlier in nearby Mesquite and had been fired from his last known job at a Coca-Cola bottler for testing positive for cocaine.

Jurors who decided the Flint, Mich., native should be given the death penalty also heard how he told deputies guarding him during his capital murder trial that it would "make his day to kill another cop," according to court documents.

Mosley's trial lawyers didn't deny the shooting but argued it was accidental, that as he was trying to surrender the weapon it went off five times.

Moore was 32, married and the father of three. He went to high school in Middletown, Ohio, served four years in the Marines and in 1987 joined the Garland police force. He'd won numerous awards and commendations during his 10 years on the job.

Tuesday evening, Christopher Coleman, 37, was put to death for the slayings of three people in a Houston drug deal robbery. Next week, John Balentine, 40, faces lethal injection for the slayings of three teenagers at a house in Amarillo in January 1998.

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Next Planning Meeting for the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, Wednesday, Sept 23

The next planning meeting for the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty will be Wednesday, Sept 23, in Room 1 at Carver Library in Austin from 7pm-8:30pm.

Everyone is welcome to attend and get involved in planning the march.

Address – 1161 Angelina (map)

The Tenth Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty is October 24 in Austin at the Texas Capitol. It starts at 2 PM.

Here is a link to a promotional video for the march. Please repost it to blogs or websites.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today Texas Executed its 18th Person in 2009 - Christopher Coleman

From the AP

Thirty-seven-year-old Christopher Coleman received lethal injection Tuesday evening for his part in a scheme contrived by a Colombian man who hoped to eliminate an $80,000 cocaine debt by staging a robbery. Four people wound up getting shot in a car on a dead-end street in Houston. Three of them died, including a 3-year-old boy.

Coleman's lawyers lost last-day appeals in the courts and failed to keep him from becoming the 18th condemned prisoner executed this year in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles earlier rejected a clemency request for Coleman, one of three men convicted in the case. The other two, Enrique Andrade Mosquera and Derrick Graham, received life in prison.

"All I know is the jury never heard the truth in this case," said Coleman's attorney, Patrick McCann. "And I don't think anybody can say who shot whom."

Prosecutors said Mosquera owed $80,000 for four kilos of cocaine he received from Hurtado Heinar Prado, 34, also from Colombia, but didn't want to pay. Instead, he hired Coleman for $12,000 and Graham for $10,000 to stage a robbery during the payoff.

Hurtado Heinar Prado was in the front seat of a car driven by another Colombian, Jose Mario Garcia-Castro, 33, when they met the three men at the end of a Houston street in the early morning hours of Dec. 14, 1995. Elsie Prado, Prado's sister and Garcia-Castro's girlfriend, and her son, Danny Giraldo, were in the back seat.

Testimony showed that Coleman approached the passenger side of the car, said something to the two men in the front and opened fire. Only Elsie Prado survived. She identified Coleman as the gunman.

Ballistics tests showed that all 11 shots were fired from outside the passenger side of the car. Testimony showed that Mosquero was standing near the front of the driver's side and Graham was in front of the car.

Coleman was arrested at a motel in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., a week later. He told police he was at the shooting scene but denied being the gunman. At his trial, Coleman's lawyers argued he was not the gunman.

Coleman's appeals attorneys argued that Elsie Prado's testimony at his 1997 trial was not truthful, that she lied about her involvement in the drug deal and that she failed to disclose that she and Mosquera knew each other and grew up in the same neighborhood in Cali, Colombia.

The 5th Circuit ruled last week that jurors could have found Coleman guilty of capital murder even without the woman's testimony.

"There was substantial evidence, independent of Prado's testimony, that Coleman was present at the scene of the murders and participated in the robbery that led to the killings," the court said.

Coleman had no previous prison record but served 60 days in jail in Harris County for assault. He refused to speak with reporters in the weeks before his scheduled execution.

His execution was one of two set for this week in Texas.

Kenneth Mosley, 51, was scheduled to die Thursday for fatally shooting a police officer, Michael Moore, during a bank robbery in the Dallas suburb of Garland in 1997.

Shout this name from the rooftops, Todd Willingham. He was innocent and Texas killed him. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, wrote that, in the modern judicial system there has not been “a single case–not one–in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

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Video Ad for 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Grab the embed code and place this ad on blogs or websites. If you can't see the video below, here is the link to it on Vimeo.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

San Antonio Express News: “overwhelming evidence” Texas Executed an Innocent Man – Todd Willingham

The San Antonio Express News Editorial Board says that there is "not a shred of evidence" that supports the theory that the fire in the Todd Willingham case was arson, and "the overwhelming evidence is that investigators, prosecutors, court appointed defense attorneys, jury members, appellate judges, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and, finally, Gov. Rick Perry failed and Texas executed an innocent man".

If you agree with the San Antonio Express News, then sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

"A lethal failure of justice in Texas""

The one argument that gives even death penalty proponents pause is the prospect that the state might put an innocent person to death. Death penalty cases have multiple layers of appeals and reviews that are intended to avoid such an eventuality. Does that process work?

In recent years, the exoneration with DNA evidence of scores of death row inmates nationwide — including many from Texas — has raised serious questions about the way some death penalty defendants are represented and treated in the criminal justice system. Still, while there have been doubts raised about some cases in which executions have taken place, no one has been able to point to a case where an innocent person was clearly put to death.

That may be about to change. Journalist David Grann, writing in the Sept. 7 issue of the New Yorker magazine, makes a compelling argument that when the state of Texas gave Todd Willingham a lethal injection in 2004, it executed an innocent man.

Willingham was sentenced to death for the murder of his three children by arson. A review of the case by experts finds the determination of arson as the cause of the fire that consumed the Willingham home in Corsicana in 1991 was utterly faulty.

In 2005, Texas created a commission to investigate forensic errors in criminal cases. One of the first cases the Texas Forensic Science Commission reviewed was the Willingham case.

As Grann notes, a fire scientist hired by the commission issued a scathing report. He found that “investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of ... fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire.”

In a letter last month to the Corsicana Daily Sun, state District Judge John H. Jackson Sr., who sent Willingham to death row as a prosecutor, responded to the mounting evidence of a wrongful execution. “The trial testimony you reported in 1991,” he wrote, “contains overwhelming evidence of guilt completely independent of the undeniably flawed forensic report.”

In fact, beyond the forensic evidence that Jackson now acknowledges as being flawed, there's not a shred of evidence to support the allegation that Willingham or anyone else started the fire that killed his children. Fire experts believe it was caused by a space heater or faulty electrical wiring. In any case, there was certainly no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to send Willingham to death row.

The overwhelming evidence is that investigators, prosecutors, court appointed defense attorneys, jury members, appellate judges, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and, finally, Gov. Rick Perry failed and Texas executed an innocent man.

Society should retain the power to apply the ultimate penalty to its most heinous and dangerous criminals. But with that power comes the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the state does not put innocent people to death. The Todd Willingham case suggests that Texas has failed in that responsibility.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Time Magazine Notices Recent Changes in Texas Laws Dealing with the Death Penalty

Time magazine published an article Sept 19 dealing with recent laws passed by the Texas Legislature dealing with compensation for people wrongfully convicted and establishing a new statewide Office of Capital Writs to handle state habeas appeals. "Texas: The Kinder, Gentler Hang 'Em High State" fails to mention the recent news regarding the Todd Willingham case and the report to the Texas Forensic Science Commission that the fire in the Willingham case was not arson, so Texas executed an innocent man.

Here is an excerpt from Time:

Tim Cole couldn't tell his own story and so his family recounted the saga to the hard-bitten Texas legislators last spring. The convict had insisted he was innocent right up to the day he died. He had refused parole because that would have required him to admit he was guilty of raping a fellow student at Texas Tech University. The ordeal was wrenching: Cole wept during the nights as he awaited a trial that would sentence him to 25 years in jail. Twice during his prison term he was found unconscious in his cell, the result of the asthma that had plagued him since childhood. The third time he suffered an attack, Dec. 2, 1999, he died from heart failure. Then, in 2007, another man confessed to the crime and Cole was declared innocent. The Texas lawmakers wept at the tale; and as a result, the state that has the reputation of being toughest on crime came up with one of the most generous and supportive programs to compensate those wrongfully convicted: the Tim Cole Act.

"I think Tim Cole's story moved a lot of people," says Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen, who represents 12 men exonerated after serving lengthy terms for rape. "As far as the politicians go, there are a lot of Republicans who do not like abusive government power." But the legislators from both parties did more than shed tears. Apart from the Tim Cole Act, they passed a second law this spring creating a well-funded office of expert appellate lawyers to represent death row inmates, a move to overcome the tales of sleepy defense attorneys and inept lawyering. The two new laws are now being implemented and their backers hope they will mitigate the state's hang 'em high image.

The Tim Cole law provides $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration and adds free college tuition, and financial and personal counseling. Unlike past lump sum payments, the new compensation will be paid out in a mix of monthly payments, an upfront lump sum and an annuity which can be passed on through a recipient's estate. The new law also sets up an investigative panel, the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.

Glasheen's 12 clients are among 38 Texas prisoners cleared by DNA testing thanks to the efforts of the New York-based Innocence Project. He filed federal civil rights lawsuits on behalf of his clients against several Dallas-area police departments and municipalities. Facing a long, arduous legal process, Glasheen also proposed a legislative solution to Dallas area civic leaders. The legal fight would be expensive for both sides, Glasheen told them, and the fundamental question was one of fairness. This spring, State Senator Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat and a longtime champion of the innocence projects, and State Senator Bob Duncan, a Republican and, like Cole, a Texas Tech alumnus, sponsored the Tim Cole Act.

Glasheen, a self-described Republican from the "Libertarian wing of the party," hopes new DNA testing on old evidence will free more prisoners. However, that hope is limited: Dallas County kept evidence on file, hence the large number of exonerated prisoners from that area, but evidence in Houston was lost in a flood, and smaller counties across Texas did not keep evidence once the appeals process ran out. "There's a whole bunch of guys down there who were convicted on just eyewitness identification," Glasheen says, as Cole was. There is now a national campaign to press a best practices written policy for lineups and eyewitness evidence. Dallas has adopted the new standards.

The second law passed by the legislature will set up new standards and funding for indigent defense appellate counsel programs. Texas was embarrassed by the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ordered a new trial for a death row inmate whose lawyer slept through much of his proceedings in Houston in 1984. It responded after the ruling by boosting funds for indigent counsel. Despite that, studies showed death row inmates were still often badly served by appellate counsel. "Since 2004, 2005 there has been documented some horrible lawyering," says Andrea Marsh, executive director of Texas Fair Defense Project. In one case, a habeas appeal was filed by an attorney who simply cut and pasted an old appeal and changed the defendant's name, leaving the facts of the old case in place, Marsh says.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Governor Rick Perry Finally Speaks: Defends Execution of Todd Willingham

The Dallas Morning News is the first to get Governor Rick Perry to speak publicly about the wrongful execution of Todd Willingham. No surprise from Perry. He rejects the scientific analysis and thinks Willingham was guilty. It is time for the people of Texas to elect a new governor. Perry has several opponents in the Republican primary and if he survives the primary, he will face the winner of the Democratic primary in November 2010.

Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

From the DMN:

Governor Rick Perry today strenuously defended the execution of a Corsicana man whose conviction for killing his daughters in a house fire hinged on an arson finding that top experts call junk science.

“I’m familiar with the latter-day supposed experts on the arson side of it,” Perry said, making quotation marks with his fingers to underscore his skepticism.

Even without proof that the fire was arson, he added, the court records he reviewed before the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 showed “clear and compelling, overwhelming evidence that he was in fact the murderer of his children.”

These were the governor’s first direct comments on a case that has drawn withering criticism from top fire experts.

Death penalty critics view the Willingham case as a study in shoddy – or at least outdated – science, and they consider it the first proven instance in 35 years of an executed man being proven innocent after death.

“Governor Perry refuses to face the fact that Texas executed an innocent man on his watch. Literally all of the evidence that was used to convict Willingham has been disproven – all of it,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit group affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law in New York that has championed the case. “He is clearly refusing to face reality.”

Three independent reviews over the last five years, involving seven of the nation’s top arson experts, found no evidence the fire was set intentionally. The most recent is a report commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

The author, renowned arson expert Craig Beylor, blasts the investigators who handled the Willingham case, finding that they misread the evidence and based their conclusions on a “poor understanding of fire science.”

The commission says it is reviewing the Beyler report and other evidence and will issue a conclusion next year.

The fire took place two days before Christmas 1991, and claimed the lives of Willingham’s three daughters: 2-year-old Amber, and 1-year-old twins, Karmon and Kameron.

State fire investigators and Corsicana fire officials maintained that burn patterns, cracked windows and other signs pointed to arson.

Willingham, 24 at the time and an unemployed auto mechanic, had only superficial burns. He said he’d run outside after Amber alerted him to the fire, looking for the others, and couldn’t reenter because the blaze grew so quickly.

He had a criminal record for burglary and grand larceny. He had once beaten his pregnant wife, and a jailhouse snitch said he’d confessed.

At trial, prosecutors told jurors that Willingham had intentionally left his daughters to die in a burning home.

But myriad scientists say that conclusion of arson was based on outdated training that, at the time of trial 15 years ago, had already been replaced by science-based methods that would have pointed to bad wiring or a space heater.

Willingham protested his innocence to the end. Strapped to a gurney awaiting lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004, he asserted that “I am an innocent man -- convicted of a crime I did not do.”

The Board of Pardons and Paroles, appointed by the governor, had rejected the appeal his lawyers had filed three days earlier. Hours before the execution, the lawyers appealed directly to Perry.

The appeal included a report from a widely respected fire expert, Gerald Hurst, that cast serious doubt on the arson finding.

Hurst, a Cambridge-educated chemist who was chief scientist for the nation's largest explosive manufacturer, says the signs used as proof that an accelerant had been poured were almost certainly the result of “flashover” – an intense heat burst that causes an entire room to erupt in flame.

The effects of flashover can mimic arson.

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked three fire experts to evaluate the case. Their testing confirmed Hurst's report. The case was recently featured in an extensive article in The New Yorker, launching a new round of questions.

Perry, in Washington for a campaign fundraiser today and a speech tomorrow to conservative activists, said during an hour-long session with reporters that he does not believe the state executed an innocent man.

“No,” he said. “We talked about this case at length. One of the most serious and somber things that a governor of Texas deals with is the execution of an individual.… We go through a substantial amount of oversight.”

In 2006, the Innocence Project, using state open records law, obtained records from Perry’s office regarding the last-minute appeal. The governor’s office provided no documents that acknowledged the contents of the appeal or its significance, Scheck’s office said – a “lack of action” that indicates the governor ignored critical analysis.

Perry, whose authority as governor is limited to delaying an execution for 30 days, said he reviewed the case extensively.

“I get a document that has all of the court process. It gives you all of his background, all of the court machinations on the legal side of it, and the recommendation of both my legal side and the courts. It’s pretty extensive amount of information,” he said. “I have not seen anything that would cause me to think that the decision that was made by the courts of the state of Texas was not correct.”

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Full Video of Nightline Report on Todd Willingham

Below is the complete video that aired on Nightline on Sept 17, 2009. The top video is part one, followed by part two. Judge John Jackson makes some very disturbing comments in part two, claiming that Willingham was likely a devil worshipper because he liked heavy metal music. Judge Jackson even makes the bizarre, absurd statement that he believes the burn patterns on the floor appear to be in the shape of a pentagram, which Jackson sees as more evidence that Willingham was likely to be a devil worshipper.

Watch part one of the video of the Nightline report on Todd Willingham on YouTube.

Watch part two of the video of the Nightline report on Todd Willingham on YouTube.

Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

Below is the full video in one piece from TMN's facebook page.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Watch Nightline Tonight on ABC for Report on Todd Willingham:.Did Texas put an innocent man to death?

ABC News' Nightline has announced on Twitter that tonight they will be airing a story by reporter Terry Moran on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Check your local listings for the time. Here in Austin Texas, Nightline airs after the local 10 PM news, so at 10:30 pm.

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Three Judges on CCA up For Re-election Vote to Deny New Trial to Charles Hood Even Though His Judge and Prosecutor Were Lovers

All three judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who are up for re-election in 2010 voted with the majority not to give a new trial to Charles Dean Hood, whose judge and prosecutor were having an affair during his 1990 trial. The vote on the CCA was 6-3. The three judges who did vote to send the case back to a lower court to explore the merits of his claim were Judges Cathy Cochran, Charles Holcomb and Tom Price.

The three judges up for re-election in 2010 are Michael Keasler, Cheryl Johnson and Lawrence Meyers. They all were among the six on the all-Republican court, including disgraced Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, who said Charles Dean Hood is not entitled to a new trial despite the fact that his judge and prosecutor were having an affair during his 1990 trial. So far, no Democrat has announced plans to run for the CCA in 2010. Where are the Democrats?

More from the Statesman:

In a 6-3 ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to consider Hood's appeal, saying details of the affair were not properly raised by his lawyers.

State law gives death row inmates one appeal, known as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Subsequent filings, such as the petition Hood's lawyers filed last year, cannot be considered unless they contain facts that were not available to lawyers exercising "reasonable diligence" in the first appeal.

Hood's lawyers failed to meet that standard, the court's unsigned opinion stated without elaboration.

Wednesday's ruling contradicted findings by state District Judge Greg Brewer of Collin County, where Hood was prosecuted. Brewer, assigned by the Court of Criminal Appeals to review the latest appeal, determined that Hood's lawyers demonstrated "extraordinary" diligence in confirming rumors that then-District Judge Verla Sue Holland and Thomas O'Connell Jr., the former district attorney of Collin County, had been having a sexual relationship before and during Hood's trial.

The judge and prosecutor strove to keep the affair secret, Brewer said, revealing the relationship only when forced to testify under oath in 2008.

But prosecutors argued that rumors of the affair were known to Hood's lawyers during his first round of appeals.

"Our argument is that they had this information and should have raised it in the earlier writ," prosecutor John Rolater, the chief of Collin County's appellate division, told The Associated Press.

Hood's appeals lawyer criticized the ruling.

"No one would want to be prosecuted for a parking violation, let alone for capital murder, by a district attorney who is sleeping with the judge," said Greg Wiercioch with Texas Defender Service. "Mr. Hood is entitled to a new trial before an impartial judge and a fair prosecutor."

Judges Cathy Cochran, Charles Holcomb and Tom Price dissented, saying they would have sent Hood's appeal to a lower court to explore the merits of his claim.

Holland is no longer a judge. She served on the Court of Criminal Appeals from to 1997 to 2001. Eight of the court's nine current judges served with her.

Hood was convicted of killing Ronald Williamson and Tracie Wallace in their Plano home. Hood's bloody fingerprint was found in the house.

Hood still has an appeal pending before the court on a different issue.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Call Governor Perry to Stop Today's Execution of Stephen Moody,whose Testimony Could Exonerate Possibly Innocent Co-Defendant

Today, Texas is set to execute Stephen Moody, who has sworn an affidavit saying that the person convicted as his accomplice and sentenced to life in prison is innocent. Governor Perry should stop today's execution while an investigation is underway into whether Moody's convicted accomplice, Calvin Doby, is innocent. Executing someone in a case where his in-court testimony could exonerate an innocent person could irreparably harm the interests of justice and could ensure that an innocent person remains in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Call Governor Perry at 512-463-1782 and urge him to stop today's execution of Stephen Moody by using his authority to grant a 30-day stay of execution. If you live in the U.S., you can use the form on Perry's website to email him. We suggest you both call him and email him.

Stephen Moody's attorneys have been quoted in the media saying they do not plan to file an appeal to try to stop today's execution, because Moody has said he wants to die and because “it is his wishes and we have to honor them.”

Moody's attorneys should file an appeal to try to stop today's execution or ask Governor Perry to issue a 30-day stay of execution. By not filing an appeal or asking for a stay, they are complicit in the state's use of the death penalty at a time when we know from the case of Todd Willingham that the Texas death penalty system is unable to prevent innocent people from being executed. It does not matter that their client would prefer to die rather than spend life in prison, which he apparently considers worse. Texas has executed an innocent person, and has therefore lost any remaining moral and ethical authority to continue executions until the question of whether Todd Willingham was innocent has been fully addressed by the state of Texas.

Stephen Moody's execution will be the first execution in Texas since the state-funded report by Dr Craig Beyler to the Texas Forensic Science Commission that the fire in the case of Todd Willingham case was not arson. Governor Perry and the State of Texas should stop all executions because Beyler's report makes it clear that Texas and Perry allowed an innocent person to be executed. The Texas death penalty system must be suspended while it is determined whether an innocent person has been executed.

Stephen Moody's attorneys should be helping stop all executions in Texas by trying to stop their own client's execution. If they believe that they are somehow obligated to follow their client's wishes to die, then they should arrange for someone to talk to him so that they can convince him that his execution will only serve to further the false illusion that Texas is capable of administering the death penalty in a manner that prevents the execution of innocent people such as Todd Willingham. Even though Stephen Moody does not maintain he himself is innocent, his execution allows the death penalty in Texas to continue at a time when all executions should be stopped because Texas has probably already executed a person who was innocent - Todd Willingham.

Moody should also not die while an investigation is underway into the possible innocence of his alleged accomplice. Moody needs to be alive to be able to testify in court that the person convicted as his accomplice had nothing to do with the crime.

From the Houston Chronicle:

In a self-described act of conscience just days before he's to be executed, killer Stephen Moody has declared in a sworn statement that his presumed accomplice in the 1991 robbery-murder of a Houston drug dealer is innocent.

The accomplice, Calvin Doby, 47, who has served 17 years of a life sentence, consistently has argued that he was with his wife and newborn son on the night Joseph Hall was robbed and killed.

“My conscience will not let me remain silent any longer,” Moody said in an affidavit sworn last week on Texas' death row. “It is not right that Calvin Doby has suffered in prison all these years for something he did not do.”

The affidavit is the basis of an appeal by Doby filed Wednesday in state district court. Prosecutors have 15 days to respond.

Moody, who fired a shotgun blast into his victim's chest, is scheduled to be executed Sept. 16.

He has refused to grant interviews for this report.

Moody's attorney James Rytting said his client has few legal options to fight his execution and has no desire to file a petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles — a move he considers an empty gesture.

Earlier this year, Moody petitioned a local judge to set his execution date as soon as possible, contending confinement on death row was “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The lead prosecution witness in both trials was ex-convict Melvin Ellis, who testified that Doby instigated and planned the crime. Shortly after sunset on Oct. 19, 1991, Moody and Doby burst into Hall's home, demanding money, testimony revealed.

Hall's girlfriend, Rene Psenka, testified that she was in the bathroom when Moody appeared with a sawed-off shotgun and ordered her not to move. She then heard Hall plead for his life. After Moody entered the bathroom a second time, again ordering her not to move, Psenka jumped through an open window and sought safety at a neighbor's house.

Eyewitness mistaken?

Neighbors told authorities they heard a gunshot and saw two men flee. The pair, testimony indicated, then returned to Ellis' house.

In his affidavit, Moody said another man — not Doby — was his partner in the crime. He said Ellis, who was taking a number of psychiatric medications at the time, was mistaken in thinking he saw Doby in the getaway car.

Moody said he had not seen Doby for a month before the killing.

In an interview at Angelton's Scott Unit, Doby said he met Moody when they shared adjacent prison cells in the mid-1980s.

“At the time of the crime,” Doby said, “I was at home with my wife and our newborn. I was on parole. We were struggling.”

Doby previously served time for aggravated robbery and escape and Moody for burglary and auto theft.

Doby's attorney, Jack Zimmerman, said Moody first contended Doby was innocent five years ago, but the killer's case was at a sensitive point and his attorneys would not let him make a formal statement. Only after Moody's state and federal appeals had been exhausted was he in a position to swear an affidavit without jeopardizing his case.
Moody is to be the 17th Texas person executed this year.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Letters-to-Editor Support Willingham's Innocence

The Corsicana Sun newspaper has published several letters in response to the Willingham case, and in particular responding to the guest column by former prosecutor John Jackson who illogically claimed that despite the flawed forensic evidence regarding arson, he thought Willingham was still guilty. All of the letters published so far are critical of Jackson and support the idea of Willingham's innocence. If you would like to write the Corsicana Sun about the Willingham case, the email address is

"If there was no arson, Todd Cameron Willingham didn't get a fair trial because the State poisoned the minds of the jurors with "scientific" evidence that he deliberately set the fire. Rationalizing that Willingham was "charged as a multiple child murder, and not an arson-murder to achieve capital status" is a just a bunch of legal gobbeldegook that ignores the reality of the prejudicial impact caused by bogus scientific testimony. In the minds of the jurors, Willingham stood accused of setting the fire, regardless of the formal charge or the court's instructions to the jury.

If you eliminate arson as a cause of the fire, Willingham's guilty is not so clear-cut. For example, how could the refrigerator have been intended to block the escape from an unexpected fire. Moreover, the whispered statement, "You're not the one who was supposed to die" is ambiguous. Willingham might have meant he wished he had died instead.

Willingham should have gotten a new trial without the testimony that the fire was arson. Then the other evidence against him would have been put to its proper test."

— David

"Willingham guilt never in doubt has a serious problem: it offers no evidence of guilt. Remember, the evidence now revealed states that there was no arson. This trumps this entire article. It means that Willingham did not set the fire. Perhaps, he did not try to rescue his children but that was not why he was executed. He was executed for murder which is different from not rescuing the children. I would think Jackson would recognize this fact. Thus, this entire commentary is meaningless because it is based upon the fact that there was an arson. There wasn't."

— Brian

"No arson, no crime. No crime, no trial. No trial, no death penalty."

— Claudio

"Mr. Jackson: The country's leading fire experts have stated that under no circumstances was this an arson fire. Therefore, nothing else you say matters."

— Charles

"I am not anti-death penalty. However, it is plain and simple to see that Todd Willingham was murdered by ineptitude and bureaucracy."

— Michael

"This is in response to your guest column by John Jackson, writing in defense of his role in executing a man who it appears was clearly not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Willingham was not a good man, he was an admitted wife-beater and petty criminal. However, that is still insufficient cause to kill someone by lethal injection, in contrast to Jackson's apparent belief.

Perhaps denial is the only way the Jackson can still face himself in the mirror each morning. At least, I hope that it is denial, and not a willful distortion of the truth.

Two statements I find particularly troubling:

"6. Witness statements established that Willingham was overheard whispering to his deceased older daughter at the funeral home, “You're not the one who was supposed to die.” (The origin of the fire occured in the infant twins bedroom) and;

7. Any escape or rescue route from the burning house was blocked by a refrigerator which had been pushed against the back door, requring any person attempting escape to run through the conflagration at the front of the house."

For number 6, as a parent, I can easily imagine myself saying, "You're not the one that was supposed to die (first)"... meaning a parent should not outlive his child. An overheard statement, taken out of context, does not make a man a killer. Neither does the implication offered by Jackson, as we can believe that the origin of the fire was in the twin's bedroom only if we accept the premise stated in Hurst's analysis that the fire was an accident. During the trial, it was offered that the fire was accelerated and of multiple origins.

For number 7, we can refer to the article in the New Yorker, quoting your own public servants:

"Even the refrigerator’s placement by the back door of the house turned out to be innocuous; there were two refrigerators in the cramped kitchen, and one of them was by the back door. Jimmie Hensley, the police detective, and Douglas Fogg, the assistant fire chief, both of whom investigated the fire, told me recently that they had never believed that the fridge was part of the arson plot. 'It didn’t have nothing to do with the fire,” Fogg said.'"

— Gerald

"I'm a retired American soldier residing in South Korea. When I read the story about Todd Willingham being accused for killing his 3 daughter and then being executed after refusing to plead guilty, I was angry.

There's no doubt in my moind, Todd Willingham didn't killl his daughters. I believe, after Todd Willingham's wife departed the home, Todd Willingham decided to take a nap. While he was sleeping, one of the girls put something in the space-heater and started a fire. The girls could have been catching paper on fire and accidently set the room on fire. When Todd Willingham woke up, he panicked. I'm a soldier who served over 6 years in combat. People tend to panic under dangerous situations. I bleive Todd Willingham made an effort to find the girls, but the smoke became too thick and he couldn't see what he was doing. Moving the car to a safer area doesn't mean he is guilty of murder. People tend to try and save anything during a fire. During a fire, shock sets in and things become hetic. I know, our home burned down one morning. My dad tried to get everyone out. He ended up jumping from an upstairs window, We all made it out of that burning hell.

"Todd Willingham was an innocent man who went through hell. He not only lost his daughters, he lost his wife and a future. Hid Mom and dad loved him. I can understand why his Mom and dad stood by him. I would walk through gunfire with a guy like Todd Willingham. In my opinion, Todd Willingham had courage. He done the right thing by not admittng to a crime he didn't do. Todd Willingham had no fear of being executed because he was an honest man who had courage. I admire a man with courage. God bless Todd Willingham."

— R.D., U.S. Army (Retired)

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sign the Petition for Texas to Acknowledge that Todd Willingham was Innocent

Sign the petition to urge Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

View current signatures.

This petition was created and written by Texas Moratorium Network. If you have questions, call TMN at 512-961-6389. If you are shocked to learn that Texas has executed an innocent person, please attend the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24, 2009 in Austin, Texas.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Reception for Texas After Violence Project - Thursday Sept 10 in Austin

Thursday, September 10, 6 - 8 p.m., Reception for TAVP friends & friends-to-be, Mi Madre's Restaurant.

Please join TAVP on Thursday, September 10, 2009 for a little bit of music and food, and a few words about why the work of the Texas After Violence Project matters.

Remarks by the Hon. Elliott Naishtat

Day: Thursday, September 10, 2009
Time: 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Presentation begins at 6:45 p.m.

Where: Mi Madre's Restaurant
2201 Manor Road, Austin, 78722

Please let us know them you will join them, so that we can make sure we have enough food. Call 916-1600 or write us at

Support their work with a donation today. The Texas After Violence Project is a public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, per an Internal Revenue Service determination letter of August 10, 2009. Contributions to the Texas After Violence Project made at any time after its incorporation on April 10, 2007, are tax-deductible.

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MSNBC Video of New Yorker author David Grann Talking About Todd Willingham

In this interview from his appearance on MSNBC, David Grann, who wrote the article "Trial by Fire" in the New Yorker about the Todd Willingham case, says there is "not a single shred of evidence of arson".

Texas Should Admit Todd Willingham was Innocent

Sign a petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

“Total idiots” in Corsicana Strike Back at Scientific Reports that Todd Willingham Fire Was Not Arson

“(Beyler) thought we were total idiots,” said Doug Fogg, a Corsicana firefighter for 31 years, who conducted the local arson investigation after the fire.

The Corsicana Daily Sun has been making up for lost time lately in the Willingham case, publishing several articles about the case since the report was released by Dr Craig Beyler that concluded that the fire in the Willingham case was not arson. The local paper started out Aug 29 publishing a column by Judge John Jackson that was so embarrassingly unprofessional coming from a judge that it could land him in trouble with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for casting discredit on the Texas judiciary. Now, the Corsicana Sun has a piece in which it rounds up the people who were involved in the trial and lets them embarrass themselves and the town of Corsicana by having them defend Willingham’s guilt even though a scientific analysis has concluded that a “a finding of arson could not be sustained”. Willingham’s defense lawyer David Martin comes across in the article as perhaps the biggest embarrassment not just for Corsicana but for the whole Texas justice system. Martin says “the Innocence Project is an absolute farce,” and Willingham “had no conscience.” “Why do monsters kill? They like killing, ” said Martin, the one person in the system at the trial that was supposed to defend Willingham. No wonder an innocent person got executed, having to rely on someone like Martin to defend him.

Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

 southernjusticeThe whole cast of characters who speak in this article making their cases that they still believe Willingham was guilty, including the judge, the prosecutors, the fire investigators, the police and even the defense lawyer bring to mind the picture accompanying this post from another era of representatives of the Southern justice system. 

Here is the the Corsicana article.

Those closest to case shed no tears for Willingham

By Janet Jacobs

The undeniable facts of the Cameron Todd Willingham case are these:
• On Dec. 23, 1991, 2-year-old Amber Louise Kuykendall, and 1-year-old twins Karmon Diane Willingham and Kameron Marie Willingham died in a mid-morning house fire at 1213 W. 11th Ave. in Corsicana.
• Willingham, 23, the children’s father, and the only adult home at the time of the fire, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death on Aug. 21, 1992.
• After five appeals and 12 years on death row, he was put to death by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004.
Everything else is controversial.
Carrying the torch
To people opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances, the holy grail is an innocent man who was executed, preferably in Texas, home of the nation’s busiest death row. Some argue Todd Willingham is that innocent man.
The latest argument for Willingham’s innocence comes from a report by Craig Beyler, of Hughes Associates in Baltimore, Md., and submitted Aug. 17 to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, a panel formed in 2005 to deal with forensic errors.
Beyler was contracted to review the case following a complaint by the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is best known for using DNA analysis to exonerate wrongly convicted men.
The report claims the Texas investigators didn’t understand fire science, and didn’t use modern methods in the Willingham case. Because one of the investigators was with the Texas fire marshal’s office, the marshal’s office will have a chance to respond to Beyler’s findings, and the commission should deliver a verdict next spring.
This week, the New Yorker published an article by David Grann which condemns the science and the system which sent a seemingly innocent man to his death. Part of the article is based on Willingham’s relationship with a woman who visited him on death row, and became an amateur sleuth on his behalf. Previous articles questioning the Willingham verdict have also appeared in the Dallas Morning News and the Chicago Tribune.
Leaders of the Innocence Project say this is proof of a failed death-penalty system.
“There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person has been executed,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, in a release. “The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again.
“As long as our system of justice makes mistakes — including the ultimate mistake — we cannot continue executing people,” Scheck stated.
In Corsicana, the attempts to make Todd Willingham into a martyr aren’t well-received.
“He’s not a poster child for anybody,” said Sgt. Jimmie Hensley of the Corsicana Police Department.
First impressions
Doug Fogg, a Corsicana firefighter for 31 years, was the first responder to arrive at 1213 W. 11th Ave. in Corsicana that Monday morning. He conducted the local arson investigation.
Fogg calls Beyler an “armchair quarterback” and riles at the accusation that Corsicana and state detectives used nothing more than folklore to come to their conclusions.
“A lot of this stuff (in Beyler’s report) is misspoken or misinterpreted,” Fogg said.
The report accuses state arson investigator Manuel Vasquez, now deceased, of not securing the scene, of missing or mishandling crucial evidence that might have exonerated Willingham, and not using scientific fire analysis.
Willingham had a lot of excuses for the fire, Fogg recalled, including that a stranger entered the house and set the fire, that the 2-year-old started it, that a ceiling fan or squirrels in the attic caused an electrical short, or the gas space heaters in the children’s bedroom sparked it.
The investigators searched for electrical shorts, but found none; the gas-powered space heaters were off because the family’s gas supply had been cut off at the meter; and “we didn’t find a ceiling fan. Willingham said there was one, but we didn’t find any signs of one,” Fogg said.
The other explanations just didn’t add up, Fogg said, adding: “We eliminated all accidental causes.”
Evidence of accelerants was found, but Willingham had an excuse for that, too. Willingham told investigators he poured cologne on the children’s floor “because the babies liked the smell,” he blamed a kerosene lamp for any accelerant in the hallway, and said spilled charcoal-lighter fluid happened while he was grilling, Fogg recalled.
Fogg agreed that there was a damaged bottle of charcoal lighter fluid on the other end of the porch away from the door, but the grill was in the side yard not on the porch when firefighters arrived. Fogg remembered four empty bottles of charcoal lighter were found just outside the front door.
Beyler acknowledges that one sample did have accelerant in it, but said it was unidentified, a claim Fogg disputes.
Local investigators didn’t leave the house until midnight, spending over 12 hours sifting through the debris by hand, taking videotape and more than 80 photographs of the scene, cutting up flooring for the lab, bagging and dating each sample and recording where it came from in the house, Fogg said. Samples were contaminated by melted plastic toys, fire-damaged carpet and floor tiles, but it wasn’t because of investigator’s incompetence, Fogg said.
Beyler theorized it was a flashover, and said investigators didn’t see the difference between the intense heat of a flashover and an accelerant-driven fire. Fogg laughed at the notion.
If it had been a flashover, it would have taken out the thin layer of sheetrock on the walls, he argued.
“That house was box construction,” Fogg said. “The only sheetrock that came down was what was hit with water. The paper backing wasn’t even scorched.”
As well, the fire damage was worse at the floor level than at the ceilings, which is the opposite of typical fire, Fogg said.
“(Beyler) thought we were total idiots,” Fogg said.
Beyond the fire
Sgt. Jimmie Hensley of the Corsicana Police Department was the lead investigator on the Willingham murder case back in 1992.
For Hensley, the most damning evidence came from Willingham, who told officers that 2-year-old Amber woke him up. Firefighters later found her in his bed, with burns on the soles of her feet. Yet, Willingham didn’t take the girl with him when he fled, nor did he receive burns walking down that same hallway, Hensley pointed out.
Willingham was taken to the hospital where doctors did a blood-gas analysis on him, a standard test for someone who’s been inside a burning house.
“He had no more (carbon monoxide) than somebody who had just smoked a cigarette,” Hensley said.
Hensley has since become a certified arson investigator. In hindsight, he insists they took the right steps with the evidence in the Willingham case.
“We did everything we were supposed to do,” he said.
Hensley also dismisses Beyler’s report, pointing out that Beyler didn’t talk to the investigators, and reading the testimony can’t replace first-person observations.
“You can find expert witnesses everywhere, and if you pay them enough they’ll testify to anything,” Hensley said. “They’re to be bought.”
Willingham was tried for murder, not arson, and the guilty verdict was based on the whole picture, not just part of it, he said.
“You can’t just look at a little part. Look at the whole picture, and that’s what the jury did,” Hensley said. “If a 2-year-old wakes you up and there’s smoke and fire everywhere, aren’t you going to at least get that one out? It couldn’t possibly have happened the way (Willingham) said.”
Willingham’s behavior afterwards did not help his case. Todd Morris was the first police officer on the scene and he found Willingham trying to push his car away from the house to save it from the fire, while his children were inside burning up, Hensley said.
Dr. Grady Shaw and his team spent an hour at the emergency room trying to resuscitate Amber while next door Willingham complained about his own suffering, Shaw said.
“I remember this case very clearly,” Shaw said. “She was in Trauma Room 1, and her father was placed in Trauma Room 2, and only a curtain separated those. He was whining and complaining and crying out for a nurse to help him because of the pain from his extremely minor burns while we were trying to resuscitate this child.”
Willingham’s first-degree burns on the backs of his hands and on the back of his neck were the kind that might come from accidentally touching an oven rack, or having a small ember pop up from a campfire, Shaw said.
“He was not hurting that bad from these minor burns,” Shaw said. “It was clearly audible what was going on next door, but to hear him doing all that complaining and asking for attention when everybody was trying to save the little girl’s life was grossly inappropriate.”
Friends of the family testified that Willingham had beaten his wife in an attempt to abort the pregnancy of the twins, and many people assumed the murder of the children was more of the same, said John Jackson, former district judge and the lead prosecutor of the Willingham case.
“We really just believed the children inhibited his lifestyle,” Jackson said.
Hensley came away deeply disturbed by the case, and he’s angry that anti-death penalty proponents ignore the children’s deaths in trying to make Willingham into a martyr.
“In my opinion, justice was served,” Hensley said. “And it’s a shame he couldn’t have died three times, one for each of the little girls.”
Alan Bristol, who helped prosecute the case for the district attorney’s office, said Willingham was “one of the most evil people I’ve ever come in contact with in my life.”
“The guy was a sociopath,” he said. Willingham refused a polygraph, tortured and killed animals as a child, abused his wife repeatedly, thought more about losing his car than his children, and clearly lied about what happened in the deadly fire, Bristol said.
“None of the stories he told us panned out,” Bristol said. “He tried to make himself out to be a big hero, that he tried to go in and save the children, but there was no smoke in his lungs and he had only minor injuries.”
Bristol said the science for investigating fires may have changed over the last two decades, but the accelerant was there, and that evidence remains valid.
“I don’t have any doubt he did it, or was guilty,” Bristol said. “I think he would have been convicted whether we had the arson evidence or not.”
Willingham appealed his case, but the verdict was upheld. In the end, he asked for clemency that never materialized.
"The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit,” Willingham said in his final moments. “I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.”
The article in the New Yorker quoted Willingham’s protest of innocence as his final words, but Loyd Cook of the Daily Sun was one of three media witnesses at the execution. Willingham’s actual final words were a venom-filled curse at his ex-wife as he attempted an obscene gesture, Cook reported.
“I hope you rot in hell, b—,” Willingham said before dying.
Stacy Kuykendall, who still lives in Navarro County, said she doesn’t talk about the case anymore. However, she did talk to Cook shortly before Willingham’s execution.
She refuted her ex-husband’s attempts to blame Amber, and came to her own conclusions that he killed their daughters. Kuykendall divorced Willingham while he was in prison, and married again. She did not have more children.
“Maybe some of the fear of him will leave me, but I’ll never get over what he did to my kids,” she said in 2004.
From his seat at the defense table, attorney David Martin’s job was to fight tooth and nail for Willingham. Once it was over, though, Martin became convinced his client was guilty. He dismisses the Beyler report as propaganda from anti-death penalty supporters.
“The Innocence Project is an absolute farce,” Martin said. “It’s a bunch of hype, in my opinion.”
The defense team couldn’t locate an arson expert back then willing to say the house fire was accidental.
“We never could find anybody that contradicted Vasquez,” Martin said.
As for motive, Martin agreed with investigators about Willingham’s character.
“He had no conscience,” Martin said. “Why do monsters kill? They like killing.”

Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas - (09-06-09) No doubts

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