Friday, October 15, 2010


"After a hearing that lasted a little more than three hours, Baird said he would make a ruling on the case at a later date.

About that same time — just before 5 p.m. — the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin ordered Baird not to take any further action in the case.

A three-judge panel of the court issued the order after Navarro County District Attorney R. Lowell Thompson, whose office prosecuted Willingham, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus and emergency motion for an immediate stay. The court asked for the parties to respond to Thompson's motion by Oct. 22."



BACKGROUND OF REVIEW: District Judge Charlie Baird agreed to hold the unprecedented two-day hearing to consider evidence on whether Cameron Todd Willing­ham was actually innocent of and executed for a crime that never occurred. Willingham was executed in 2004 in connection with a fire in his home in Corsicana that claimed the lives of his three young children. State officials – including the State Fire Marshal's Office – concluded that the 1991 fire had been deliberately set by Willingham; Willing­ham maintained his innocence, including in his last words before death...Baird, who will retire at the end of the year, will consider testimony and evidence in the case on Oct. 6 and 7. Baird last year presided over the state's first posthumous hearing in the case of Tim Cole.

BACKGROUND OF WILLINGHAM CASE: (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 were 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. Legendary "Innocence" lawyer Barry Scheck asked participants at a conference of the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers held in Toronto in August, 2010, how Willingham, who had lost his family to the fire, must have felt to hear the horrific allegations made against him on the basis of the bogus evidence, "and nobody pays any attention to it as he gets executed." "It's the Dreyfus Affair, and you all know what that is," Scheck continued. "It's the Dreyfus AffaIr of the United States. Luke Power's music video "Texas Death Row Blues," can be found at:


"During an unprecedented hearing completed just before an appeals court ordered it to stop, state District Judge Charlie Baird on Thursday heard from two leading fire experts who said Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004, was convicted based on faulty science,"
the Austin American-Statesman story by reporter Steven Kreytak published on October 14, 2010 begins, under the heading, "Appellate court orders halt to Willingham inquiry: Order comes at end of hearing, at which experts said executed man was wrongly convicted."

"A jury convicted Willingham in 1992 of killing his three young daughters by setting fire to his Corsicana house. Shortly before his execution, the first in a string of experts found that investigators relied on bogus science to determine that the fire was intentionally set," the story continues.

""There is not a single item of evidence at that fire scene that would even suggest this was arson," said Gerald Hurst, an Austin chemist who has studied fire for decades.

Lawyers for Willingham's family petitioned Baird last month to pronounce that Willingham was wrongfully executed and to determine whether there is probable cause that state officials committed a crime in their handling of his case just before execution.

After a hearing that lasted a little more than three hours, Baird said he would make a ruling on the case at a later date.

About that same time — just before 5 p.m. — the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin ordered Baird not to take any further action in the case.

A three-judge panel of the court issued the order after Navarro County District Attorney R. Lowell Thompson, whose office prosecuted Willingham, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus and emergency motion for an immediate stay. The court asked for the parties to respond to Thompson's motion by Oct. 22.

Thompson filed a motion in the case last week seeking Baird's recusal and questioning Baird's impartiality. He cited several grounds, including that as a member of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Baird ruled in 1995 to uphold Willingham's conviction and sentence, and that Baird had recently received an award from an anti-death penalty group.

Thompson sought the stay after Baird announced in court Thursday that because Thompson was not a party to the court petition, he did not have standing to seek the recusal.

Willingham's stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, and his cousin, Patricia Willingham Cox, are the plaintiffs in the suit. Their lead lawyers are Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck, former Texas Gov. Mark White and Gerald Goldstein, a San Antonio criminal defense lawyer.

Baird had invited government officials, including those from Gov. Rick Perry's office, to participate, as well as Willingham's ex-wife, but they all declined.

Perry has said that Willingham was "a monster" who had his chance at justice at trial and in numerous appeals. Willingham's ex-wife, Stacy Kuykendall, has said that Willingham confessed to her in the weeks before his execution. Willingham's family and their lawyers deny that he did that and say that Kuykendall has made contradictory public statements about what Willingham said during that meeting.

Thursday's inquiry began with an aggressive attack on a deputy state fire marshal's 1991 investigation into the fire at Willingham's house.

Florida fire expert John Lentini attacked the findings of Manuel Vasquez, now deceased, in which Vasquez cited what he said were 20 indicators of arson at the small, wood-framed house.

"None of them, not one, say this is a set fire," Lentini said.

With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, Lentini walked Baird through each of the reasons Vasquez cited in determining the fire was intentionally set. He noted, for example, that Vasquez found that charring on the floor of the home was proof that an accelerant was used because "fire doesn't go down unless it has help."

"That's wrong," Lentini said. He explained how all combustible material inside a room catches fire, including the floor, during a frequent fire event called a flashover.

Lentini attacked Vasquez's findings that burn patterns on the floor are also proof that an accelerant was used, noting that those patterns are caused when objects on the floor protect certain areas of flooring from the fire.

He said arson investigators at one time believed that "V" patterns of fire damage showed points of origin and that multiple "V" patterns was an indicator that a fire was set in multiple places and therefore arson.

Now, Lentini said, fire scientists know that "V" patterns are often present near doors and windows, places where air fuels the fire.

Lentini said that nine fire experts have concluded after reviewing the reports, pictures and videos from the Willingham investigation that there is not a shred of evidence that the fire was intentionally set. He said he has heard from only one expert who disagrees, but said that opinion is based on Willingham's behavior after the fire and other evidence, not on the science.

Lentini also attacked current state Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado, whose office was also invited to participate in the inquiry, for announcing in August that the office stands behind the original findings in the case. He suggested that Maldonado, who could not be reached for comment, was trying to avoid having to re-examine other convictions that resulted from the flawed science.

Baird also watched a presentation by Goldstein dismantling the credibility of Johnny Everett Webb, who testified at Willingham's trial that Willingham had confessed to him while in jail.

In response to Webb's claim that the fire was meant to cover injuries inflicted by Willingham's wife to one of the girls, Goldstein submitted autopsy reports that show no physical injuries to the girls.

Goldstein said Webb has mental health issues and on two separate occasions has stated that his testimony about Willingham's confession was false.

White made a closing argument in which he noted that he supports the death penalty but that he believes that it should only be used in cases where evidence is overwhelming because of the "frailties in the system exposed by Willingham's case."

He called on Baird to restore Willingham's name.

"The state of the testimony that convicted him has been impugned today," White said. "Every shred of evidence points conclusively to his innocence.""


The story 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;;