Tuesday, August 16, 2011


"He once executed a (most likely) innocent man. This falls into the deeply unfortunate category, needless to say, and there is a 17-page New Yorker article devoted to this story."



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 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:

For an important critique of the devastating state of arson investigation in America with particular reference to the Willingham and Willis cases, go to:



"Rick Perry is the man of the moment,"
the preface to the Atlantic Wire list by Ujala Sehgal published on August 14, 2011 begins, under the heading, "The Top Six Rick Perry-Related Conversation Starters."

"When he announced yesterday that he was officially joining the race for 2012, he managed to suck up much of the attention from the Iowa straw poll -- that already hadn't been sucked up by Sarah Palin, that is -- leaving precious little for winner Michele Bachmann, and even less for the unfortunate Tim Pawlenty," the list continues.

"Despite not even attending the event itself, as a write-in candidate, he beat Newt Gingrich (who was there) in votes, and then forcefully took over the role of Mitt Romney's new nemesis. Such is the power of Perry.

It's not hard to see why: unlike Romney, who many find a bit dry, Perry is a colorful, controversial figure. The past few days, the media has been awash in Perry-related anecdotes. While other outlets have constructed decidedly more slanted lists such as "Top 10 Things Texas Gov. Rick Perry Doesn’t Want You To Know About Him," we in turn are merely hopeful, for the moment, to keep the conversation going. So we've parsed through the deluge of information (old and new) to highlight the best Rick Perry-related conversation starters. Note: they range from the mildly diverting to the deeply unfortunate.

1. He signed a law requiring women to hear their fetuses described to them before abortions. Perry put a piece of legislation on the fast-track this year as an "emergency" that required women to first get a sonogram before abortions, Reuters reported. The women are then offered a chance to hear the heartbeat and look at the images, which they may decline. "But the woman's doctor must describe the image, explaining the size of the embryo or fetus and the presence of organs and limbs." Then, unless they live more than 100 miles from the abortion doctor, women have to wait 24 hours before going through with it. "This is government intrusion at its best,'' Democratic state Representative Carol Alvarado said during debates, wielding a trans-vaginal probe.

2. His father-in-law performed his vasectomy. Make what you will of this one. Here goes: Frank Bruni at the New York Times writes that he learned during a CNN segment this weekend that Perry's father-in-law had performed his vasectomy. In fairness to Bruni, he adds, "I’m not sure where on the spectrum of family values that falls or why voters need to know it." And in keeping with that vein...

3. His nickname (not to his face, we gather) was once "Crotch." In an op-ed for the Daily Beast, Paul Begala recalls how he first met Rick Perry in 1985, when Perry was a Democratic freshman state rep. "He wore his jeans so tight, and, umm, adjusted himself so often that my fellow young legislative aides and I used to call him Crotch."

4. He once killed a coyote to protect his dog while he was jogging. Heard this one? Rick Perry apparently jogs carrying a .380 Ruger -- loaded with hollow-point bullets -- because he is afraid of snakes, the Associated Press reports. This came in handy when a coyote came out of the bush toward his daughter's labrador retriever. It only took one shot, which Perry credited to the laser pointer on his gun that helped make a quick, clean kill. He reportedly said, "Don't attack my dog, or you might get shot . . . if you're a coyote." We like to imagine there was a long pause before the "if you're a coyote" caveat. (Bonus fact: he also made killing a catfish with your bare hands legal in Texas. As Roll Call puts it, "Clearly catfish are the coyotes of the water.")

5. He signed a proclamation dedicating three days of prayer for rain. It did not work. This one we've even covered, but let's refresh our collective memories. In April, there was a historic drought in Texas. In response, Perry called upon Texans to pray for rain for the next three days, even signing an official proclamation. Was it effective? According to Think Progress: "the problem has only gotten worse since then." Let's hope he has greater effect with his daily prayers for Obama.

6. He once executed a (most likely) innocent man. This falls into the deeply unfortunate category, needless to say, and there is a 17-page New Yorker article devoted to this story. In short, in 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas after being convicted of arson and the murder of his three children. According to Think Progress, "even after significant evidence emerged showing that arson had not caused the fire (thus exonerating Willingham), Perry refused to grant a stay of execution." They also add this grisly detail:

Five years after Willingham was executed, a report from a Texas Forensic Science Commission investigator found that the fire could not have been arson. As the commission prepared to hear testimony from the investigator in October 2009, Perry quickly fired and replaced three of its members, forcing an indefinite delay in the hearing."


The list 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 found at:


Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:


Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; hlevy15@gmail.com;