Stacy Kuykendall, the ex-wife of Cameron Todd Willingham, offers her first detailed account of the 1991 fire that claimed the lives of her three daughters and led to Willingham’s execution in 2004. “Todd set our house on fire then stood outside and watched it burn,” Kuykendall asserts, saying she agrees with Gov. Rick Perry’s portrayal of her husband as “a monster.” Here is the full statement:
On October 18th I read that David Grann said that the Chicago Tribune reporters, Steve Mills and Maurice Possley, tracked me down and interviewed me about my ex-husband and if he in fact confessed to me. He wrote that I firmly said that Willingham had never done so. I have never been formally interviewed by any reporters. Mills, Possley and Grann have all come to my home uninvited to ask me questions about my ex-husband. I told them all that I no longer believe that Todd was innocent, that he did murder my daughters and I did not want to talk about that which had to deal with him. I was asked why I didn’t believe that he was innocent and my response was, after reading statements, mainly Todd’s, that first of all, he gave conflicting stories of what happened the day of the fire and secondly after visiting with him on death row that he was guilty. I was asked what was said the day I visited with my ex-husband. I told them that I believed that was personal and would not respond to the question. I asked them repeatedly to leave my property.
For all of this to be brought up again has been extremely painful for me and my family. How many more times do we have to see in detail that burned house were my daughter died! I have carried this pain for 18 years now and will for the rest of my life. I can say that I am a very strong women but having to listen to this every day again is starting to take its toll on me. I pray daily for my babies to have some peace and my family to stop being harassed.
Governor Rick Perry called Cameron Todd Willingham a "monster" and indeed he was. Nightline ran story titled "A Life Cut Too Short." There were three life's cut too short and their names are Amber Louise, Karmon Diane and Kameron Marie.
David Grann posts, "Stacy Speaks," for the New Yorker's News Desk blog.
The case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004 and whom I wrote about for The New Yorker last month, has taken another strange twist. Yesterday, Willingham’s former wife, Stacy Kuykendall, released a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram saying that he secretly confessed to killing their three daughters, who died in a fire on December 23, 1991. Her statement directly contradicts numerous previous statements she has made: in interviews with police and fire investigators; in testimony during the trial; in letters to public officials and Willingham’s lawyers; and in her comments to the press.
On February 8, 2004—the very day that Ronnie Kuykendall claimed his sister had told him that Willingham had confessed—the Corsicana Daily Sun published an interview with Stacy Kuykendall. She said that during her visit with Willingham in prison, he maintained that the fire was accidental and that their daughter Amber had likely caused it:Willingham laid out the same theory to Kuykendall that he suggested during the Daily Sun interview—that Amber had accidentally set the fire. He said that he woke up to her cry of “Daddy, Daddy.” Willingham said he woke up and saw smoke hovering a few feet above him, then jumped up from the bed where Amber’s body would later be found, put on his pants and ran to the kids’ room where all he could see was fire. Willingham said that he never encountered Amber in those initial moments and theorized that Amber had left the kids’ room via a hall that led both to the front door and to another entrance to his bedroom and that’s how he missed her.
In that article, Kuykendall made it clear that she did not believe Willingham’s version of events. But she never mentioned a confession. While I was reporting my New Yorker article, I tried to talk to Stacy Kuykendall, but she said that she no longer wanted to discuss the case. I did ask her if she stood by her statements to the Tribune and to the Daily Sun. She said, “If I said it, then it’s true.”
In the course of reporting my story, I also spoke to John Jackson, who prosecuted Willingham. He spoke about the contradictions between Kuykendall’s public statements and her brother’s affidavit. “She’s given very different stories about what happened on this particular day right up to the date of his execution,” Jackson said. “It’s hard for me to make heads or tails of anything she said or didn’t say.”
Steve Mills writes, "Death penalty case: Ex-wife says convicted killer confessed," for the Chicago Tribune.
Willingham went to his death proclaiming his innocence.
And over the years, she has offered differing accounts.
A Tribune investigation in 2004 showed the indicators of arson that fire officials used had been disproved by scientific advances and no longer were valid.
The first word of a confession came just before the execution, when Kuykendall's brother signed an affidavit in which he said that she told the family that, during the prison visit about two weeks before the execution in 2004, Willingham made a confession.
But in a story in the local newspaper after the prison visit, she made no mention of a confession. In fact, she told the paper Willingham stuck to his story about his actions during the fire.
In a brief interview at her home in 2004, Kuykendall told the Tribune Willingham never made such an admission. She confirmed that this year to a reporter from the New Yorker magazine.
Her statement that he confessed -- and that he said he set the fire because she threatened to divorce him -- also conflicts with other accounts that she has provided.
Eight days after the fire, in an interview with fire investigators and police, Kuykendall said that she and Willingham had not argued for at least two weeks and she made no mention of a threat the night before the fire to divorce him.
Earlier coverage begins with the preceding post.