Determination of negligence in Willingham arson case still pending
On Friday April 14, the Texas Forensic Science Commission made real progress in its review of the arson convictions of Cameron Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis.
Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters 13 years earlier, yet he always claimed his innocence. Before his execution, a leading arson expert told the governor and the state that the original arson investigation was flawed. Since 2004, many additional experts have agreed that the testimony of the original fire investigator was based on faulty arson science. Willis, on the other hand, was exonerated after it came to light that his conviction was based on similarly flawed evidence.
In a report adopted this month, the commission found the arson investigation unreliable in the Willingham case and deemed the Fire Marshal’s continuing support of the original arson finding "untenable." It also recommended more education and training about arson evidence for fire investigators, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers and judges and recommended a multi-disciplinary review of past arson cases where similar evidence may have caused wrongful convictions.
"The commission took an important step with this report," said Stephen Saloom, Policy Director for the Innocence Project, which first raised questions about the case. "They were constrained by the lack of an opinion from the attorney general regarding their authority to address issues of negligence or misconduct and had to overcome the chairman’s relentless efforts to silence discussion on many issues. In the areas they felt permitted to address, however, they’ve made some significant progress. I applaud the effort they made to get to this point."
Read more on Willingham and the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
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