Monday, April 26, 2010





BACKGROUND: (Wikipedia); Cameron Todd Willingham (January 9, 1968 – February 17, 2004), born in Carter County, Oklahoma, was sentenced to death by the state of Texas for murdering his three daughters—two year old Amber Louise Kuykendall, and one year old twins Karmon Diane Willingham and Kameron Marie Willingham— by setting his house on fire. The fire occurred on December 23, 1991 in Corsicana, Texas. Lighter fluid was kept on the front porch of Willingham’s house as evidenced by a melted container found there. Some of this fluid may have entered the front doorway of the house carried along by fire hose water. It was alleged this fluid was deliberately poured to start the fire and that Willingham chose this entrance way so as to impede rescue attempts. The prosecution also used other arson theories that have since been brought into question. In addition to the arson evidence, a jailhouse informant claimed Willingham confessed that he set the fire to hide his wife's physical abuse of the girls, although the girls showed no other injuries besides those caused by the fire. Neighbors also testified that Willingham did not try hard enough to save his children. They allege he "crouched down" in his front yard and watched the house burn for a period of time without attempting to enter the home or go to neighbors for help or request they call firefighters. He claimed that he tried to go back into the house but it was "too hot". As firefighters arrived, however, he rushed towards the garage and pushed his car away from the burning building, requesting firefighters do the same rather than put out the fire. After the fire, Willingham showed no emotion at the death of his children and spent the next day sorting through the debris, laughing and playing music. He expressed anger after finding his dartboard burned in the fire. Firefighters and other witnesses found him suspicious of how he reacted during and after the fire. Willingham was charged with murder on January 8, 1992. During his trial in August 1992, he was offered a life term in exchange for a guilty plea, which he turned down insisting he was innocent. After his conviction, he and his wife divorced. She later stated that she believed that Willingham was guilty. Prosecutors alleged this was part of a pattern of behavior intended to rid himself of his children. Willingham had a history of committing crimes, including burglary, grand larceny and car theft. There was also an incident when he beat his pregnant wife over the stomach with a telephone to induce a miscarriage. When asked if he had a final statement, Willingham said: "Yeah. The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man - convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return - so the earth shall become my throne. I gotta go, road dog. I love you Gabby." However, his final words were directed at his ex-wife, Stacy Willingham. He turned to her and said "I hope you rot in hell, bitch" several times while attempting to extend his middle finger in an obscene gesture. His ex-wife did not show any reaction to this. He was executed by lethal injection on February 17, 2004. Subsequent to that date, persistent questions have been raised as to the accuracy of the forensic evidence used in the conviction, specifically, whether it can be proven that an accelerant (such as the lighter fluid mentioned above) was used to start the fatal fire. Fire investigator Gerald L. Hurst reviewed the case documents including the trial transcriptions and an hour-long videotape of the aftermath of the fire scene. Hurst said, "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire."


"IRVING ­— Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who was dispatched last September by Gov. Rick Perry to take control of the troublesome set of scientists known as the Texas Forensic Science Commission, continued to pursue his mission on Friday," Rick Casey's April 25, 2010 Houston Chronicle column begins, under the heading, "Let's have a cheer for small victories."

"It was just one round in what promises to be a protracted fight over whether the body will become a national model of how to improve the use of science in fighting crime, or just another secretive, bureaucratic body perceived as protecting licensed professionals rather than policing them," the column continues.

"Bradley struck the first blow immediately upon his appointment by shutting down the commission for nearly four months, saying he needed to develop proper procedures to be used by the scientists in their investigations of complaints of bad science being used in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Much attention has focused on the side-effect of delaying work on a probe into the apparently pathetic excuse of an arson investigation used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham of burning down his house to murder his children. Despite questions raised about that investigation before Willingham was put to death in 2004, Perry refused to delay the execution so the questions could be examined.

Friday's meeting made it clear that Bradley will succeed in delaying any final report on the Willingham matter until after the November election.

More secretive

“We're only just beginning to put together the pieces we need,” said commission member Sarah Kerrigan, head of the graduate forensic science program at Sam Houston State University.

But more important than the Willingham investigation is the long-term impact on the commission that Bradley seems to be seeking.

For example, he has made it much more secretive than it had been. Before he took over, the nine-member commission did all its work, including its investigations, as a body and in public sessions.

But Bradley persuaded the commissioners to do the work by committee, and has declared that the committees will meet in secret.

Although it didn't officially become a committee until Friday, a group had already met on the Willingham case, although it seems to have discussed only where it will go from here.

Intriguing byplay

Grand juries are secret mainly out of concern for the reputations of people who end up not being charged with a crime, and partly for the safety of witnesses.

But Willingham is dead and all the witnesses appeared at his trial. I can imagine evidence or witnesses that the commission may legitimately want to hear privately, but not in the Willingham case.

Having decided to have the committee work done in secret, Bradley named himself to the two most sensitive committees: the one handling the Willingham case and, even more importantly, the committee that screens complaints and recommends which ones to accept.

He named Tarrant County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani to both three-member panels, making some commission members wonder if Bradley sees Peerwani as an ally.

One intriguing byplay at Friday's meeting suggested that if Peerwani is a Bradley ally, he's not totally in his pocket.
Hint of tension

Bradley had named Kerrigan, one of those most vocally resistant to his proposed policies, as a member of the Willingham committee.

But Bradley announced that she had asked to be replaced “for personal reasons,” a common euphemism. He also indicated that she thought the committee ought to be bigger and include the commission's only defense attorney to balance DA Bradley, a hint at the tension between the two.

Bradley named Fort Worth defense attorney Lance Evans to replace Kerrigan, but Evans noted that this resulted in a committee made up entirely of new appointees. He suggested that a member who had been part of the investigation from the beginning should be added or they could “perhaps meet as a committee of the whole (commission).”

Persistence pays

Bradley resisted, saying the committee could invite another member to attend a meeting. But Peerwani said he thought Kerrigan should be added as a member. Bradley once again said she could be invited, but Peerwani persisted and won.

It was a small victory — the notion that the committee investigating the forensic science that helped lead to a man's execution should include as many scientists as lawyers — but I'm afraid these days we have to celebrate even the small victories."

The column can be found at: