Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cameron Todd Willingham. Texas;...Another excellent Slate post by Jeremy Stahl: "Texas Executed an Almost Certainly Innocent Man: The Texas Forensic Science Commission chairman tried to convince Texas that Cameron Todd Willingham was a monster. Did politics trump truth?" (Must Read. HL);

NOTE FROM LAURA  HELMUTH, PUBLISHER OF SLATE: "Our most ambitious and important story of the week was Jeremy Stahl’s Fresca on the trials of Ed Graf, a man who was convicted of killing his sons in a fire. You’ve gotten a few messages about this story already, and I hope you’ve had a chance to read it and the accompanying stories in Slate Plus about Cameron Todd Willingham, another man convicted of killing his children. Willingham was innocent, and Texas executed him anyway. Texas is atoning for his death (sort of) by leading the country in reforming how it investigates arson cases. The whole series is haunting, but one statistic really captures the scope of the problem. In the 1990s, thanks to new research and a lot of pushing from reformers, arson investigators finally started accepting that many supposedly distinctive signs of arson were actually common in any accidental fire. As a result, as Jeremy wrote: “Between 1999 and 2008, arsons dropped from 15 percent to 6 percent of fires nationwide.” Imagine how many fires that missing 9 percent represents, how many people were convicted of arson or even murder based on shoddy forensic science."

STORY: "Texas Executed an Almost Certainly Innocent Man The Texas Forensic Science Commission chairman tried to convince Texas that Cameron Todd Willingham was a monster. Did politics trump truth?,"by Jeremy Stahl, published on August 15, 2015, by Slate. (This story is part of a special Slate Plus package on Jeremy Stahl’s “The Trials of Ed Graf.” Be sure to check out another Slate Plus exclusive related to this story, a profile of the family of Cameron Todd Willingham and their campaign to have him exonerated.)

GIST: "The cases against Cameron Todd Willingham and Ed Graf were similar in many ways. Both men were accused of setting a fire to kill their children. Both men were accused of using accelerants to start the fire, of trapping their children in a burning building, and of not trying hard enough to save the children once the fire had started. Both men were prosecuted using forensic evidence that has since been thoroughly discredited. Both were convicted. Willingham was executed. Arson scientist John Lentini conducted a landmark 1992 study that proved that certain supposed arson indicators could be produced in accidental fires. He was among the first forensic scientists to re-examine the Willingham case. He found there was no evidence that anyone had intentionally lit Willingham’s home on fire. At least seven other experts looked into the case and agreed. Willingham had been convicted largely on the word of two fire investigators who had claimed to find more than 20 indicators of arson. All of them were junk science. The faulty arson science was brought to the attention of then–Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles before Willingham’s execution in 2004. Walter Reaves, the appellate attorney for both Willingham and Graf, sent a report by the Austin, Texas-based fire scientist Gerald Hurst demonstrating the flaws in the science. The report was ignored......... At the end of 2013, Willingham’s family members and Michael Morton, who has become a prominent advocate for criminal justice reform, came together to call on Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to give Willingham a posthumous pardon. In April 2014, the board voted to reject their plea. The Willingham family is still hoping that the new governor, Greg Abbott, or a future one will eventually grant their request. Morton says that Willingham’s prosecutor John H. Jackson, now a retired judge, should be charged with a crime. It turns out that in addition to relying on junk science, the “second pillar” of Jackson’s case was a jailhouse informant who has since said that he was coerced by Jackson to lie on the stand and say that Willingham confessed and was ultimately offered a deal in exchange for his testimony. (Jackson, who has described the charges that he paid off the informant as a “complete fabrication,” did not respond to multiple messages requesting comment left with his law office.) The Washington Post reported corroborating evidence for the payoff claim in August. Jackson is currently facing disbarment after the state bar charged him with concealing evidence related to the informant’s testimony. (Read about the Willingham family’s continued attempt to seek justice at Slate Plus.) Nothing can bring Cameron Todd Willingham back. There was one major consequence of his case, though. The Texas Forensic Science Commission gave 17 recommendations to revamp the state fire marshal’s office, including a proposal for it to review old arson cases where questionable science was used. Surprisingly, the state’s new fire marshal took on every single one of those recommendations. Ed Graf’s case was among the first up for review."

The entire post can be found at:

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