Wednesday, July 28, 2010


"It was a good week in Houston for Texas justice. One DA did her job and helped free an innocent man, while another was prevented from sabotaging the commission created by the state Legislature to improve Lone Star forensic science."


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."


"In two very different venues in Houston last week, progress was made in addressing an endemic stain on Texas justice: the wrongful conviction of innocent people," the Houston Chronicle editorial published on July 27, 2010 begins, under the heading,Questions of innocence: Positive developments in two cases here equal a good week for Texas justice."

"In an emotional courtroom scene, a teary-eyed state District Judge Joan Campbell announced she would recommend the release of 39-year-old Allen Wayne Porter, who has served 19 years of a life sentence in state prison for participation in a 1990 robbery-rape in southwest Houston," the editorial continues.

"After years of pleading innocence and seeing his efforts at exoneration rebuffed, Porter wrote a detailed letter to Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos. She forwarded it to attorneys in her office's post-conviction review section, who compiled testimony that convinced Judge Campbell that Porter had been wrongfully identified by a victim and did not participate in the crime. District Attorney Lykos deserves credit for giving Porter's case the thorough scrutiny that would likely not have occurred under her predecessor, Chuck Rosenthal.

"The integrity of the criminal justice system means everything," said Lykos. "Wrongful convictions are a triple tragedy — for the accused, the victim and society. The true criminal is free to continue to commit offenses."

Judge Campbell ordered Porter released on bond pending action by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on her recommendation.

Ironically, a day later another district attorney was in Houston leading an effort to undercut the Texas Forensic Science Commission's ability to determine the validity of arson evidence that led to the execution of a Corsicana man, Cameron Todd Willingham. A national arson expert who consulted with the commission, Craig Beyler, concluded that the evidence was flawed and investigators should have known that.

The Innocence Project estimates that more than 600 inmates in Texas prisons were convicted using the same kind of questionable evidence.

The Innocence Project estimates that more than 600 inmates in Texas prisons were convicted using the same kind of questionable evidence.

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley was appointed chairman of the commission by Gov. Rick Perry, who had refused a last-minute stay of execution request by Willingham. Bradley was part of a shake-up of the commission membership by the governor shortly before a scheduled presentation by Beyler to the group. Bradley canceled the meeting. Critics charged that Perry used Bradley to ice the probe and prevent political embarrassment to the governor before the November election.

Before last week's meeting, Bradley had issued a memo that if adopted would have restricted the commission's jurisdiction to evidence processed in state-accredited crime labs. That would have effectively taken the Willingham matter out of consideration.

On Friday, the commission committee looking into the Willingham case issued tentative findings that the arson evidence was "flawed science," but that arson investigators did not commit misconduct or negligence.

The commission pledged to examine arson investigation techniques in Texas and indicated it will take up the Willingham case at a meeting later in the summer.

Most significantly, the commission voted 8-0 to reject Bradley's memo. Chronicle columnist Rick Casey called the vote a defining moment for the commission in asserting its independence and authority.

It was a good week in Houston for Texas justice. One DA did her job and helped free an innocent man, while another was prevented from sabotaging the commission created by the state Legislature to improve Lone Star forensic science."

The editorial can be found at:

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be accessed at:

For a breakdown of some of the cases, issues and controversies this Blog is currently following, please turn to:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;;