Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for an arson fire that killed his three children. Investigations by prominent forensic scientists have discredited the evidence of arson presented at trial. Numerous media outlets, including CNN and Newsweek, have featured the Willingham case, particularly focusing on the evidence of the flawed science used to convict him.
In 2008, the Innocence Project filed a complaint with the Texas Forensic Science Commission alleging professional negligence by arson investigators in the case. The Commission issued a report finding that the original arson investigators relied on now-outdated science in concluding that the fire was intentionally set. Since the panel took on the Willingham case in 2006, questions have been raised about its authority to assess the reliability of forensic evidence. Governor Rick Perry delayed the panel’s work in 2007 when he replaced three members of the commission, before it planned to hear expert testimony.
Now Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has ruled that the FSC does not have authority to review evidence regarding the possible innocence of Willingham. Abbott’s ruling states that evidence tested or offered into evidence prior to September 1, 2005 is beyond the scope of the FSC’s legal jurisdiction.
In a statement released by the Innocence Project, Co-Director Barry Scheck said, “We are disappointed in the Attorney General’s ruling…. We believe the reasoning of the opinion is wrong and contrary to the clear intention of the legislature when it formed the Commission. We urge the legislature to correct this injustice and fully empower the Commission to investigate all matters that could help prevent wrongful convictions.”
What is the goal here? Protecting the flawed process or discerning the truth? Nothing can bring Cameron Todd Willingham or his children back, but at the very least, all the evidence should be heard, regardless of how painful the outcome.
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