Executed Texan’s Family Seeks Pardon
Cameron T. Willingham
Two decades after a Texas man was convicted of murdering his three young daughters by setting his own house on fire, and eight years after a campaign to prove his innocence failed to stop his execution, his family petitioned on Wednesday for a posthumous pardon.
The case of Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana, Tex., has drawn attention because it seems to offer evidence that an innocent man was executed based on flawed science. Spurred partly by this case, the Texas fire marshal recently agreed to re-examine questionable arson convictions.
The battle to clear Mr. Willingham’s name has symbolic value for those fighting to end the death penalty. Six years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court wrote that he was unaware of “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”
Mr. Willingham’s conviction was based heavily on testimony by the Texas state fire marshal, who asserted that the scene offered clear signs of arson. Recent research has raised substantial questions about his conclusions and led to a review of other arson convictions in Texas. That research is scheduled to be presented to a panel of fire experts by January, and advocates say it could lead to the reversal of several wrongful convictions.
“Todd’s last words were: ‘Please clear my name. I did not kill my children,’ ” said Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project, which has led the work on this case, with the pro bono assistance of the New York law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel. The Innocence Project is affiliated with Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University.
“All the evidence against him has been disproven,” Mr. Saloom said. “There have been nine reports issued about this case over the years. We are saying to the board: you couldn’t have known before, but now you have all this evidence before you.”
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- Family seeks pardon review for executed Texas man (star-telegram.com)