Thursday, September 3, 2009

Texas executed an innocent man (most likely)

This story's getting quite a bit of publicity, but it should probably be on the front page of every newspaper in the country. The new issue of The New Yorker has a stunning story on the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was convicted of murdering his three little girls by setting the family's house on fire in 1991. He forever proclaimed his innocence. He was executed in 2004.

New investigations by multiple arson experts have revealed that the fire was almost certainly accidental, likely caused by faulty wiring or a space heater. And the only thing shakier than the science used to convict was the eyewitness testimony. Plus, prosecutors used Willingham's Led Zeppelin posters as evidence of his sociopathic tendencies. The story would be absurd if the tragedy didn't overwhelm it. 

The man considered by many to be the top arson investigator in the country analyzed the evidence and concluded that "there was no evidence of arson, and that a man who had already lost his three children and spent twelve years in jail was about to be executed based on "junk science." Hurst wrote his report in such a rush that he didn't pause to fix typos."

In the story, the writer, David Grann, details how the investigator dismantled every piece of scientific evidence used against Willingham. 

Hurst submitted his findings to a Texas judicial board but they ignored them. The state went ahead with the execution. In the movie True Crime with Clint Eastwood, he saves a wrongly convicted inmate in the final seconds while the man's on the lethal injection table. This is a true-life version of that fictional tale. But in the real version, the man died.

And Grann conducted an online chat on Wednesday. Read it here


No comments: