Judge Exonerated Executed Man


You may remember the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004, for what a great many people believe was a crime he did not commit. The Huffington Post notes that a Texas state judge wrote a declaration exonerating him in 2010, but it was never released because the appeals courts overruled him.

A Texas judge who reviewed the controversial 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham planned to posthumously exonerate the father who was put to death for killing his three daughters in a house fire.

Scientific experts who debunked the arson evidence used against Willingham at his 1992 trial and a jailhouse witness who recanted his shaky testimony convinced District Court Judge Charlie Baird in 2010 that “Texas wrongfully convicted” him. But Baird’s order clearing Willingham’s name never became official, because a higher court halted the posthumous inquiry while it considered whether the judge had authority to examine the capital case.

While waiting for permission to finish the case from the Third Court of Appeals, Baird put together the document that “orders the exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his three daughters,” because of “overwhelming, credible and reliable evidence” presented during a one-day hearing in Austin in October 2010…

The 18-page unissued order closely examined the arson evidence presented during the trial, including claims that investigators found patterns on the floor where an accelerant was poured and traces of it on the porch. But Baird said he was persuaded by other experts that the initial investigative techniques were out of date. The judge faulted Gov. Rick Perry and the state Court of Criminal Appeals, because they “ignored” exonerating evidence in 2004.

Baird released the document because of the recent report that Texas had put to death another likely innocent person in Carlos DeLuna.

Comments

  1. Who Knows? says

    It’s ok. I’m sure Governor Perry prayed long and hard about excuting Mr. Willingham and he got the go-ahead straight from God.

  2. Gregory in Seattle says

    @Who Knows? #1 – The truly frightening thing is, you are probably right about the voices in Perry’s head telling him to go ahead with murdering someone.

  3. d cwilson says

    According to the answer he gave during the debates, Perry doesn’t put much thought into the process at all. He’s pretty much a rubber stamp. If he’s all that’s between you and the death chamber, you’re pretty much f##ked at that point.

  4. says

    They didn’t execute Willingham for a crime he didn’t commit: they executed him for a crime that probably never actually happened.

  5. Desert Son, OM says

    Posting it again, because it’s central to the problem the U.S. has in its judicial processes in cases like this:

    From Liebman, Fagan, West, and Lloyd’s (2000) review of death penalty cases nationwide:

    Among the twenty-six death-sentencing jurisdictions in which at least one case has been reviewed in both the state and federal courts and in which information about all three judicial inspection stages is available:
    1. 24 (92%) have overall error rates of 52% or higher;
    2. 22 (85%) have overall errors rates of 60% or higher;
    3. 15 (61%) have overall error rates of 70% or higher.
    4. Among other states, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, and California have overall error rates of 75% or higher. (p. 1853)

    and this little gem:

    The 68% rate of capital error found by the three stage inspection process is much higher than the < 15% rate of error those same three inspections evidently discover in noncapital criminal cases. (Liebman et al., 2000, p. 1854)

    Error rate in capital cases is more than four times the error rate in noncapital cases. Liebman et al. (2000) conclude, rightly so, that in any other system, public institution, or corporate environment, error rates like those would be cause for massive review and overhaul, starting with shutting the process down entirely.

    Still learning,

    Robert

    ____________________
    Reference:
    Liebman, J. S., Fagan, J., West, V., & Lloyd, J. (2000). Capital attrition: Error rates in capital cases, 1973-1995. Texas Law Review, 78(7), 1839-1865.

  6. gopiballava says

    Yeah, but how many of those ‘errors’ were real errors? Aren’t lots of them things like missing a dot on an i or a cross on a t? The guy probably actually did it.

    And if he didn’t, he probably did something else. The police wouldn’t suspect him unless they’d been watching him do other things wrong, and finally had the evidence to do something.

    (I think this is the mindset some people have…)

    In all seriousness, actually, are errors more likely to be caught in capital cases? There are a lot more appeals in death penalty cases as opposed to 5 year sentences. There are scary stories about sleeping public defenders in capital cases – I can’t imagine that 5 or 10 year cases get better attorneys.

  7. Michael Heath says

    d cwilson:

    According to the answer he gave during the debates, Perry doesn’t put much thought into the process at all. He’s pretty much a rubber stamp. If he’s all that’s between you and the death chamber, you’re pretty much f##ked at that point.

    True but I perceive his behavior is far worse. That he views executing people as advantageous to him personally, especially if they’re innocent. His willingness to kill others “proves” his loyalty to the tribe, analogous to how it benefits conservative Christians politicians when they’re caught Lying for Jesus®.

    This behavior is not predominately sought after by all conservatives nor all conservative Christians we observed during this presidential primary season, but such behavior does have its fans and does appear to be increasingly in vogue. So it’s not a defining attribute of conservative Christian in general, but certainly a potential threat to become one.

  8. cottonnero says

    #4: Small solace, but at least that means that the actual criminal isn’t still out there, unlike a lot of cases where a wrongful execution is two miscarriages of justice: Executing an innocent man, and failing to apprehend a guilty one.

  9. Didaktylos says

    Another facet of the god-deluded mindset vis-a-vis wrongful convictions in capital cases is that it doesn’t matter if an innocent person is wrongly executed – Big Guy In The Sky will put it all right …

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