Monday, August 31, 2009

Shouting From The Rooftops

It should have been good news -- the best news of Cameron Todd Willingham’s life.

Willingham, convicted of setting the raging fire on December 23, 1991 which destroyed his home and killed his three children, had been on Texas’ Death Row since 1992, awaiting execution. So when a group of leading forensic experts re-examined the evidence used to convict him and determined
that the core evidence against Willingham was not valid

it should have been a day of celebration. The report basically exonerated Willingham, at the very least would allow Willingham’s lawyers to seek a new trial. After more than 15 years on Death Row, during which he proclaimed his innocence, Cameron Todd Willingham might actually be set free.

Except for one thing. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by the State of Texas in February 2004. The report was five years too late.

The New Yorker has the goods here. Read and weep for a broken system that, when it fails, does so tragically, monumentally, irredeemably.


Was Willingham a model citizen? He was not. Neighbors said he drank too much. He cheated on his wife, and had abused her. He was unemployed. He collected posters of skulls and snakes, even wore a tattoo of a snake entwining a skull.

But these are not capital offenses.

Willingham did not, however, set fire to his home and kill his children. He was not the "demon" and "sociopath" that Texas prosecutors claimed.

Sadly, questions about the conviction surfaced well before his execution. Even before the exhaustive report released today, the forensic science used to convict Willingham had been debunked while he was still alive on Death Row. Texas Governor Rick Perry might have offered Willingham clemency, had the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles bothered to read that report.

But they could not:

The Innocence Project obtained, through the Freedom of Information Act, all the records from the governor’s office and the board pertaining to Hurst’s report. “The documents show that they received the report, but neither office has any record of anyone acknowledging it, taking note of its significance, responding to it, or calling any attention to it within the government,” Barry Scheck said. “The only reasonable conclusion is that the governor’s office and the Board of Pardons and Paroles ignored scientific evidence.”

Petition denied. And Gov. Rick Perry, now running for re-election, has blood on his hands.

But he’s not the only one. More from the New Yorker article:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, voted with a majority to uphold the death penalty in a Kansas case. In his opinion, Scalia declared 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.”

There you have it, Justice Scalia. The name is CAMERON TODD WILLINGHAM. It should sound familiar to you since in December 2003, you and the rest of the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Consider this my rooftop.