Petition to Convene a Court of Inquiry and for a Declaration to Remedy Injury to Mr. Willingham's Reputatio... Sphere: Related Content
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Text of Petition for Court of Inquiry Filed on Behalf of Todd Willingham's Family in the 299th District Court
Petition to Convene a Court of Inquiry and for a Declaration to Remedy Injury to Mr. Willingham's Reputatio... Sphere: Related Content
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 1:54 PM
Monday, September 27, 2010
Sphere: Related ContentAUSTIN -- A Travis County judge today ordered a court of inquiry to determine if Cameron Todd Willingham was wrongfully convicted and executed in the deaths of his three daughters, who perished in a Corsicana house fire in 1991.
Judge Charlie Baird, who also conducted a court of inquiry that led to the exoneration of wrongfully convicted inmate Tim Cole of Fort Worth, told the Star-Telegram that he has decided to move forward with the court of inquiry into the Willingham case after reviewing a petition filed Friday by lawyers representing Willingham’s relatives.
“I have decided that the petition warrants a hearing,” Baird said in a telephone interview. The inquiry will be held in his courtroom on Oct. 6-7, but Baird said it could be extended if necessary.
Willingham was found guilty of deliberating setting the fire that killed his daughters -- 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron. The unemployed Corsicana mechanic went to his death in 2004 insisting that he was innocent.
The case became the center of national attention after several fire experts concluded that the arson investigation against Willingham was flawed and based on outmoded techniques. It has also been the focus of a controversial review by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which opened an inquiry into the arson investigation in 2006.
Baird said he made his decision early this morning after staying up until midnight Sunday reviewing the 55-page petition.
“Obviously the most troubling aspect of this -- and it just dwarfs everything else – is whether or not to believe that an innocent person has been executed by the State of Texas,” he said.
The inquiry could lead to Willingham’s posthumous exoneration if the findings warranted, said Baird. He said he has no preconceived view on Willingham’s guilt or innocence but felt that questions raised by Willingham’s case justified further examination.
“I agree with them that they’re entitled to a hearing but I wouldn’t say at any level that he’s innocent,” Baird said. “A lot of this stuff has either been done piecemeal or in secret and this will bring it all to light.”
Baird said he has ordered a subpoena to demand the appearance of the jail trusty who testified that Willingham admitted the crime while he was in jail awaiting trial. He also sent invitations to Gov. Rick Perry’s chief counsel, the Texas Fire Marshal, the Navarro County district attorney and the state prosecuting attorney, but said their appearance wasn’t necessary.
Perry has defended the execution, describing Willingham as a “monster” whose appeals were repeatedly rejected by state and federal courts. Willingham supporters have accused Perry of interfering with the commission’s inquiry by ordering a shakeup of the membership during a crucial phase of the inquiry, but the governor has dismissed those assertions.
Baird said he could make a ruling within two weeks after the court of inquiry concludes it review.
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 3:38 PM
Sate District Judge Charlie Baird announced today that he will hold a two-day hearing in Travis County next week in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 in the 1991 arson murder of his three young daughters in Corsicana.Sphere: Related Content
Lawyers for Willingham’s relatives on Friday filed a lawsuit asking Baird to hold the hearing to determine whether Willingham was wrongly convicted and whether there is probable cause to charge Texas officials with official oppression.
The suit claims that those officials, who were not named, committed that crime by failing to consider before Willingham’s execution that he was convicted on discredited arson science.
Several arson experts in recent years have rejected the science that the investigators who testified at Willingham’s trial used to determine that the fire that killed his daughters was intentionally set. The Texas Forensic Science Commission has been reviewing the science in the case since 2006.
The hearing has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 and 7.
Baird, right, wrote today in an e-mail to the American-Statesman that he has issued a bench warrant to have Johnny Everett Webb, who testified at Willingham’s 1992 trial, brought to Travis County for the hearing. Webb told a jury during that trial that Willingham, above, confessed to the arson while they were in the same jail.
Baird said that he has appointed a lawyer to represent Webb, who is incarcerated in Navarro County, during the Travis County hearing.
Lawyers for Willingham’s family served their 62-page suit along with the hundreds of copies of exhibits on officials at Gov. Rick Perry’s office, the state fire marshal’s office, the Navarro County district attorney’s office and the office of the state prosecuting attorney, which represents the state in cases at the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Baird wrote in today’s e-mail that he has mailed letters to those parties notifying them of the hearing dates and “invited them to attend if they wanted to present evidence on, for or against the issues raised in the petition.”
Read more about the Willingham family lawyers petition in Travis County here.
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 2:52 PM
Friday, September 24, 2010
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 7:31 PM
From the Statesman:
Setting the stage for what could be an extraordinary court inquiry into whether Texas executed an innocent man, lawyers for relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham, put to death for the 1991 arson murder of his three young daughters in Corsicana, on Friday petitioned a judge in Travis County to hold a hearing on whether Willingham was wrongly convicted.Sphere: Related Content
The lawsuit was filed with state District Judge Charlie Baird, who last year issued the state's first posthumous DNA exoneration in a rape case originally tried in Lubbock. Baird is a trial judge who previously had nothing to do with the Lubbock or Willingham cases.
Willingham's execution six years ago has received national attention. Several arson experts in recent years have rejected the science that the investigators who testified at Willingham's trial used to determine that the fire that killed his daughters was intentionally set.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission began reviewing the Willingham case in 2006 but has not reached any conclusions. Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, the chairman of that commission since last year, said in an interview Friday that Baird does not have the legal authority to consider the Willingham case. "I would say the political end for this one is to abolish the death penalty," Bradley said.
In a later e-mail, Bradley suggested that the Willingham family lawyers improperly filed the case directly with a judge who he said "has no public to hold him accountable" because he isn't running for re-election. Baird is a Democrat whose term on the 299th District Court expires at the end of the year.
Baird agreed last year to hear the Lubbock case, centered on the wrongful conviction of Timothy Cole, who died in prison, under a provision of the Texas Constitution that states, "All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him in his \u2026 reputation shall have remedy by due course of law."
The Willingham lawsuit was filed in part under a similar legal claim.
It also asks that Baird open what is called a court of inquiry in the case to determine whether probable cause exists to charge Texas officials with official oppression. The suit claims that those officials, who were not named, committed that crime by failing to consider before Willingham's execution that he was convicted on discredited arson science.
"We are not looking or asking for anything other than a fair and impartial review of the facts and the law in this case," said San Antonio lawyer Gerald Goldstein, who represents Willingham's relatives along with former Texas Gov. Mark White and Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project.
Baird said he would hold an evidentiary hearing on the case next month if, after reviewing the filing, he deems the case worthy.
Willingham was convicted of murder in 1992 in the deaths of his children —1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron and 2-year-old Amber — who died of smoke inhalation after a fire at the family's house in Corsicana, about 55 miles northeast of Waco. He maintained his innocence until his 2004 execution.
Willingham's lawyers said they first presented claims that he was convicted on faulty scientific arson theories to the office of Gov. Rick Perry in the days before his execution.
Since 2006, they have pursued their case with the Forensic Science Commission, whose hired expert last year issued a report identifying numerous scientific shortcomings in the Willingham fire investigation.
At a meeting this month, members of the commission wrestled with the scope of their investigation.
Bradley had supported a draft report that said investigators of the Corsicana fire could not be held accountable for relying on arson indicators now known to be unreliable or misleading because they were following the best available practices of the time.
But some of the commission's scientists said they wanted to look at other issues, including whether the state fire marshal's office, which investigates fires statewide, has a duty to reopen cases once it realizes that earlier investigative practices have been debunked by scientific advancements.
The commission has agreed to convene a panel of fire experts at a November meeting.
The Willingham family's 62-page suit was filed with hundreds of pages of exhibits and indicates that copies have been delivered to Perry's office, the state fire marshal's office, the Navarro County district attorney's office and the office of the state prosecuting attorney, which represents the state in cases at the Court of Criminal Appeals.
It is unclear whether officials in those offices would be made to participate in the inquiry or what a hearing in Baird's court on the Willingham case would entail.
Perry has called Willingham a "monster" and said he believes he is guilty; the fire marshal's office has stood by its original determination that Willingham's house was torched intentionally. A Perry spokeswoman on Friday noted in a statement that Willingham's conviction had been upheld by courts nine times.
Goldstein declined to say whether he planned to seek to subpoena any officials if Baird agrees to hold a hearing.
The February 2009 hearing on the Cole case lasted two days and included testimony from Michele Mallin, the woman whom Cole was convicted of raping, and Jerry Johnson, a prison inmate serving a life term who said he was the one who raped Mallin and was implicated in a later DNA test.
Lawyers for the Innocence Project of Texas questioned the witnesses. No one cross-examined them.
In the Willingham case, Corsicana officials have said they stand by their investigation and conclusions and say they continue to believe he was guilty. Willingham's trial defense lawyer also has said he believes his former client was guilty.
If Baird holds a hearing in October, it would come before the Texas gubernatorial election pitting Perry, a Republican, against Democratic challenger Bill White, a former Houston mayor. Election Day is Nov. 2.
Willingham was executed during Perry's tenure, and Perry was accused of playing politics with the case last year when he replaced three members of the nine-member Commission on Forensic Science, including the chairman, Austin defense lawyer Sam Bassett.
The members, whose terms had expired, were replaced just days before the commission had been scheduled to hear the findings of the expert they had hired to evaluate the case. That presentation was postponed indefinitely.
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 6:45 PM
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Host a Viewing Party and Watch World Premiere of Documentary about Todd Willingham "Death by Fire" Oct 19
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 5:02 AM
From the Austin American-Statesman:
Sphere: Related Content
The state's highest criminal court Wednesday threw out the murder conviction of an East Texas man, ruling that results from controversial dog "scent lineups" are not reliable enough to stand on their own in court.The decision means that Richard Winfrey Sr. , 56, now serving a 75-year sentence in state prison, is acquitted and will go free.No physical evidence tied Winfrey to the brutal 2004 murder of a neighbor in Coldspring, about 20 miles east of Huntsville. But three bloodhounds owned and trained by Keith Pikett , a now-retired Fort Bend County deputy sheriff, indicated that they smelled Winfrey's scent on a gauze pad that had been wiped on the victim's clothes and stored in a plastic bag for three years.A San Jacinto County jury convicted Winfrey of murder based almost entirely on the lineup results, according to Wednesday's decision. On appeal, Winfrey's lawyers claimed the scent lineups were unreliable and quoted scientists and dog experts who found Pikett's methods to be unethical, unprofessional and biased in favor of law enforcement.Wednesday's decision means prosecutors can continue to introduce scent lineups at trial, but only if the conclusions are supported by other, corroborating evidence.The Court of Criminal Appeals declined to delve into the bigger question of whether dog scent lineups should be admissible in court at all. Because Winfrey's lawyer failed to object to the lineup at trial, the issue was not eligible for review by the appeals courts, a concurring opinion by four judges noted.Instead, the court ruled 8-0 that prosecutors had failed to present any credible evidence, beyond the dogs' identification, tying Winfrey to the crime."I am so glad to know that they saw that poppycock stuff," said Shirley Baccus-Lobel , Winfrey's appeals lawyer. She said the Winfrey family was "deliriously happy" to hear the news.On their own, scent lineups do not provide enough evidence to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, said the opinion by Judge Barbara Hervey . Scent is easily transferred and is "not proof positive that (Winfrey) came in contact with the victim," she wrote.Several other justices, during oral arguments in April, also noted that prosecutors could not prove that Winfrey's scent, even if present on the victim's clothing, was transferred during the crime."We acknowledge the invariable truth espoused by (U.S. Supreme Court) Justice (David) Souter that 'the infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction,'\u2009" Hervey wrote. "We conclude that scent-discrimination lineups, when used alone or as primary evidence, are legally insufficient to support a conviction."The unanimous opinion overturned a lower court that affirmed Winfrey's conviction in the murder of Murray Burr, who was badly beaten and stabbed 28 times in his home. No witnesses saw Winfrey at Burr's house. He did not match DNA, fingerprints, a bloody footprint or any of the 73 hairs taken from the crime scene. None of Burr's possessions were found with Winfrey, Hervey noted.Bill Burnett , the San Jacinto County district attorney who argued that Winfrey's conviction should be upheld, died in June, about six weeks after oralarguments. His office declined to comment on the case.Police also charged two of Winfrey's children with Burr's murder — Megan, who was 16 at the time, and Richard Jr., who was 17.Megan was found guilty of capital murder, but her brother — after hiring a new lawyer who aggressively challenged the science and methodology behind Pikett's lineups — was acquitted by jurors who deliberated only 13 minutes.Megan's lawyer, Scott Pawgan , has already begun drafting a supplemental brief in the 9th Court of Appeals based on Wednesday's opinion. "The evidence in Megan's case is almost identical to her father's," Pawgan said.Megan's trial lawyer also failed to object to Pikett's lineup testimony, but Baccus-Lobel predicted that it is only a matter of time before the right case arrives that will allow the Court of Criminal Appeals to weigh the admissibility of scent lineups.From 1993 to 2009, Pikett and his dogs conducted hundreds of scent lineups for about 20 Texas counties, the Texas Rangers, the state attorney general's office and federal agencies, court documents show. Pikett trained a half-dozen of his bloodhounds — sporting names such as Columbo, Quincy, James Bond and Clue — to conduct scent lineups using methods he created or learned from dog training seminars.He claimed his dogs were nearly infallible in tying suspects to crime scenes.However, at least four lawsuits are pending that allege Pikett's dogs erred, including a case involving two men who were charged with a triple murder in Houston before the killer confessed.In Winfrey's case, Pikett placed six unsterilized coffee cans about 10 steps apart, outdoors and on the ground. One can held a gauze pad that had been wiped on Winfrey's skin. The others were filled with scent pads, taken from several hundred Pikett carries with him, that matched Winfrey's race and gender.Pikett had a bloodhound smell a scent pad from clothes Burr was wearing when he was killed, and then walked a leashed dog by the cans until it turned or barked, alerting him to a matching smell.Forensic scientists and professional dog handlers have stepped up their criticism of Pikett's methods, which they say lack scientific understanding and safeguards. For example, the cans are not cleaned between use, and ungloved handlers typically placed the gauze pads inside, mingling scents.
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 1:40 AM
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The Dallas Morning News has endorsed Keith Hampton in his campaign to become a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The CCA's presiding judge is Sharon Keller, who has been issued a "Public Warning" for judicial misconduct. Visit Hampton's website at: http://www.hamptonforjudge.com.
From the DMN:
Sphere: Related Content
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 7:33 PM
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Complete transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 trial, divided into five documents on Scribd.com.
Part 1 Contains beginning of proceedings, opening statements and first day of witness tesimony and cross examination. (270 pages)
Part 2 Contains second day of witness tesimony and cross examination. (146 pages)
Part 3 Contains opening and closing arguments, verdict and jury polling. (53 pages)
Part 4 Contains beginning of punishment phase. (209 pages)
Part 5 Contains defense arguments, the state’s arguments, verdict and formal sentencing. (30 pages)
Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 1 of 5)
Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 2 of 5)
Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 3 of 5)
Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 4 of 5)
Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 5 of 5)
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 4:57 AM
From the Courier of Montgomery County:The special court of review on Monday will hear Judge Sharon Keller’s request to summarily dismiss a public reprimand from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.The hearing on Keller’s motion to dismiss will be at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Texas Supreme Court in downtown Austin. Each side will have up to 45 minutes to argue.The commission, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct, ruled in July that Keller violated Court of Criminal Appeals procedures when she closed the court clerk’s office at 5 p.m., allowing rapist-murderer Michael Richard to be executed later that night without his final appeal being heard in court.Keller appealed the rebuke, and the three-judge court of review was created by a random drawing of state appeals court justices to hear her arguments.Keller’s motion to dismiss asks the special court to void the reprimand and drop all charges, arguing that the commission exceeded its authority, violated the judge’s due process rights and rebuked Keller for violating a court rule that was nothing more than an unwritten protocol.
A Conroe appellate judge will sit on a special court of review to hear Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Sharon Keller’s motion to overturn a reprimand for her handling of an execution-day appeal.Sphere: Related Content
Justice Charles Kreger, of the 9th state Court of Appeals, was selected, along with 2nd state Court of Appeals Justice Terrie Livingston and 1st state Court of Appeals Justice Elsa Alcala, to hear Keller’s motion to dismiss a public warning the State Commission on Judicial Conduct gave her July 16.
Livingston will serve as chief justice for the special court of review, according to a letter Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson sent to the three justices Aug. 18. None of the three will receive additional compensation, as mandated under the Texas Government Code.
The hearing is Monday, said Osler McCarthy, staff attorney for public information for the Texas Supreme Court, where the hearing will be held.
“If the special court does not grant (Keller’s motion to dismiss),” McCarthy said, “they will rehear the case in its entirety.”
Keller, presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, sought an overturning of her warning by the state Supreme Court, which denied her request Aug. 16.
Jefferson selected Kreger, Livingston and Alcala “by lot,” under Texas Government Code Section 33.034.
“The chief justice literally pulled their names out of a hat,” McCarthy said.
Kreger did not return calls for comment, and Houston attorney Charles Babcock, who is representing Keller, could not be reached.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded Keller for her handling of the last-minute appeals of Death Row inmate Michael Wayne Richard, who was scheduled to die in September 2007 for the 1986 rape and murder of a Harris County nurse at her home.
The day Richard was scheduled to die, his attorneys, who were trying to file a stay-of-execution appeal, told Keller they were having computer problems that were preventing them from delivering their appeal.
She responded, “We close at 5,” and closed the court.
Richard was executed later that evening by lethal injection.
Earlier that same day, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a Kentucky case claiming lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling put a hold on executions for months across the nation, making Richard’s execution the last for sometime.
Keller’s reprimand was one of the least severe sanctions she could receive from the State Commission on Judicial Commission, which found her actions showed “willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties” and that she had cast “public discredit on the judiciary.”
Keller is asking for a removal of the public warning from her record and allegations of judicial misconduct to be dismissed.
Within 60 days after the hearing, according to the Texas Government Code, the special court of review “shall issue a decision as to the proper disposition of the appeal.”
The court’s decision is not appealable, according to the Texas Government Code.
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 3:15 AM
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Death by Fire
On air and online October 19, 2010 at 9:00pm (check local listings)
Click here to watch video preview on Frontline site.
Did Texas execute an innocent man? Several controversial death penalty cases are currently under examination in Texas and in other states, but it's the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham—convicted for the arson deaths of his three young children—that's now at the center of the national debate. With unique access to those closest to the case, FRONTLINE examines the Willingham conviction in light of new science that raises doubts about whether the fire at the center of the case was really arson at all. The film meticulously examines the evidence used to convict Willingham, provides an in-depth portrait of those most impacted by the case, and explores the explosive implications of the execution of a possibly innocent man.
11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
October 30, 2010 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol
Austin Texas Sphere: Related Content
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 7:20 PM
The Texas Forensic Science Commission met in Dallas on Sept 17, 2010. Todd Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia, and two of his cousins, Patricia Willingham Cox and Judy Willingham Cavner, testified to the packed meeting. Watch the video on YouTube.
Video by Texas Moratorium Network
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 6:12 AM
Texas Moratorium Network attended the meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission on Sept 17, 2010 in Dallas. Below are some media coverage on Dallas TV stations. The yellow and blue signs on the walls were brought to the meeting by TMN.
Video From MyFox Dallas Fort Worth (Contains comments by Rick Perry):
Video from NBC Dallas:
Video from WFAA (ABC) Dallas:
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 4:41 AM
Photos of Todd Willingham's Family at Texas Forensic Science Commission meeting in Dallas Sept 17, 2010
This is Todd Willingham’s family who continue to fight tenaciously for justice for Todd. Before his execution, Todd had told his parents, “Please don’t ever stop fighting to vindicate me.” In this picture are Todd’s family members at the Texas Forensic Science Commission in Dallas on Sept 17. They won’t ever give up, and we won’t give up standing beside them.
|Todd Willingham's Family at Texas Forensic Science Commission|
|Todd Willingham's Family joined by Jamie Bush and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network|
and Laura Lamb of CEDP-Denton
October 30, 2010 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 4:06 AM
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 3:17 AM
Thursday, September 16, 2010
This 10 minute video, with reflection questions, provides an explanation of the Catholic Church's teaching regarding the death penalty, In addition to the principles, it discusses their application in the United States today. It includes comments by Bill Pelke, president of the Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing. Bill and members of the JOH will be attending the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin on October 30 at the Texas Capitol. Journey of Hope will be conducting a speaking tour in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin in the two weeks leading up to the annual march in Austin.
Posted by Texas Moratorium Network at 4:07 AM