The Petition for Posthumous Pardon and supporting documents are available from the Innocence Project.
"Executed Texan’s Family Seeks Pardon," is Ethan Bronner's report in today's New York Times.
Two decades after a Texas man was convicted of murdering his three young daughters by setting his own house on fire, and eight years after a campaign to prove his innocence failed to stop his execution, his family petitioned on Wednesday for a posthumous pardon.
The case of Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana, Tex., has drawn attention because it seems to offer evidence that an innocent man was executed based on flawed science. Spurred partly by this case, the Texas fire marshal recently agreed to re-examine questionable arson convictions.
The battle to clear Mr. Willingham’s name has symbolic value for those fighting to end the death penalty. Six years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court wrote that he was unaware of “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”
Mr. Willingham’s conviction was based heavily on testimony by the Texas state fire marshal, who asserted that the scene offered clear signs of arson. Recent research has raised substantial questions about his conclusions and led to a review of other arson convictions in Texas. That research is scheduled to be presented to a panel of fire experts by January, and advocates say it could lead to the reversal of several wrongful convictions.
“Todd’s last words were: ‘Please clear my name. I did not kill my children,’ ” said Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project, which has led the work on this case, with the pro bono assistance of the New York law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel. The Innocence Project is affiliated with Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University.
“All the evidence against him has been disproven,” Mr. Saloom said. “There have been nine reports issued about this case over the years. We are saying to the board: you couldn’t have known before, but now you have all this evidence before you.”
"A family asks: Was an innocent man executed for arson murders?" is by Molly Hennessy-Fiske for the Los Angeles Times.
Relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed eight years ago for the arson deaths of his three young daughters, are petitioning the state to hold a public hearing, issue a posthumous pardon and clear his name.
The pardon request comes as state officials are collaborating with the Lubbock-based Innocence Project of Texas on an unprecedented review of closed arson cases statewide, looking for scientific errors that may have contributed to wrongful convictions. The inquiry, the first of its kind in the country, is expected to change the way fire investigations are conducted.
Willingham's defenders maintain that faulty fire investigations, or "junk science," led to his conviction and death.
Willingham was convicted in 1992 of setting a fire at his home in Corsicana, about 55 miles south of Dallas, that killed his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins on Dec. 23, 1991. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles refused him clemency, appeals courts declined to stay his execution, and Willingham, 36, was executed on Feb. 17, 2004.
But according to the family's petition for a pardon, "since his trial, scientific advances have shattered every assumption underlying the testimony of the two fire investigators who declared to the jury and the court that Willingham set the fire."
Willingham’s stepmother and two cousins appeared at a briefing in the state capital with their attorneys Wednesday to speak out on his behalf.
“I would like to be proud of the Willingham name again. I would like Todd’s name to be taken out of the infamous list in his hometown,” stepmother Eugenia Willingham of Ardmore, Okla., said.
Willingham’s cousin Judy Cavnar, 60, also of Ardmore, described her last conversation with Willingham, a phone call less than an hour before he was put to death.
“He said in a very firm voice, ‘I did not set that fire,’ ” Cavnar said, tearing up. “It was important to him that we clear his name and the name of his children.”
"Family seeks posthumous pardon for Texas convict," by Matt Smith at CNN.
The family of a Texas convict executed for the deaths of his three daughters in a 1991 fire launched a new effort to clear his name Wednesday by asking the state parole board for a posthumous pardon.
Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death in 2004 for setting the fire that killed the girls: Amber, Karmon and Kameron. But three expert reviews have concluded Willingham's conviction was based on evidence of arson that was outdated, and his family has insisted on his innocence.
"An error was made, and it is not too late to clear it up," the family's lawyers wrote in a petition filed with the state Board of Pardons and Paroles in Austin. Willingham and his family "deserve more," and "perhaps more importantly, the State of Texas deserves more."
The board denied clemency for Willingham before his execution, dismissing the first of three reviews that questioned the arson finding at the heart of Willingham's prosecution. Two subsequent studies have reached the same conclusion, finding that most of the signs investigators looked for as proof the fire was deliberately set had been rendered obsolete by a series of studies in the 1990s.
The last study was produced for the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which began looking into the Willingham case in 2008. A subsequent shakeup of the commission by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who allowed Willingham's execution to go forward, led to accusations that the governor was trying to derail the investigation.
Perry has called Willingham a "monster" whose conviction withstood every appeal. Police and prosecutors in Corsicana, where the fire occurred, also stand by their case. Willingham professed his innocence in his final statement, but his ex-wife has said he confessed to killing the girls before the execution.
A jailhouse informant who testified in his trial has recanted his statement that Willingham admitted to setting the fire, and a now-retired judge who sat on the state court that rejected Willingham's appeal has written that the execution was "a miscarriage of justice" for which he was partly responsible, the family noted in its petition.
"Willingham's Family Seeks 'Posthumous Pardon'," by Maurice Chammah at the Texas Tribune.
As his 2004 execution date neared, his attorneys sent Gov. Rick Perry and the Board of Pardons and Paroles a report by Gerald Hurst, a fire expert, suggesting that the conviction was based on deeply flawed forensic methods. Evidence that had been used to prove arson at the trial, he explained, was simply evidence present in any fire scene.
In 2010, District Judge Charlie Baird held a hearing to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to hold a court of inquiry regarding a possible wrongful execution. A Texas appeals court barred him from releasing an opinion, accusing him of bias in the case.
In January that year, Attorney General Greg Abbott released an opinion stating that posthumous pardons can be granted. In March, Perry officially pardoned Timothy Cole, who had died while serving time in prison for a 1986 kidnapping and rape of which he was later cleared by DNA.
Goldstein, who works with the Innocence Project, said the New York-based organization is looking at 26 cases of arson for possible wrongful convictions. The only man exonerated from Texas’ death row in an arson case, Ernest Willis, also spoke to reporters, having driven from his home in Mississippi. “I got lucky,” he said, highlighting parallels between his and Willingham’s convictions. “Let’s give his family some relief.”
The AP filing is, "Family of executed man seeks pardon in arson deaths," written by Chris Tomlinson. It's via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The state fire marshal's office stood by their findings in the case until 2011, when the Texas Forensics Commission ruled the methods used were profoundly scientifically flawed.
"I promised [Todd] we would not falter on our commitment to exonerate him, and by doing so, he and the rest of the family could find peaceful closure," said Judy Cavnar, Willingham's cousin. "I further believe Todd expected us to expose the outdated scientific methods used in processing the evidence, the same evidence that plagues so many cases and sent him to a premature grave."
The Texas Forensics Commission last year recommended a review of all arson convictions based on the same science used to convict Willingham. The recommendation came after the state attorney general limited the scope of its investigation into Willingham's case, prompting the panel to decline to issue a finding on any alleged negligence or misconduct by the State Fire Marshall's Office in the case.
The forensics commission previously determined the techniques used to convict Willingham were flawed, such as the belief that crackling of windows is an indication of arson. Scientists now know the crackling happens when firefighters spray cold water on them.
Gerry Goldstein, the attorney for the family, said the report submitted Wednesday to the Board of Pardons and Paroles uses the latest science to prove every indicator used by the fire marshal to prove arson in Willingham's case actually proves the fire was accidental. "This is not like a witness who forgot something, this is like DNA. This is science," Goldstein said.
Also speaking in support of the family Wednesday was Ernest Willis, who spent 17 years on Texas' death row for a similar arson conviction and spent time with Willingham in prison. Willis' attorneys convinced the district attorney in his case to help exonerate him after experts refuted the old arson evidence. The state released Willis one month after Willingham's execution.
"I got lucky, I got a big firm out of New York ... that spent 12 long years and spent $5 million on experts and that's what this is all about, money and politics," Willis said. "Gov. Perry needs to step forward and give this family some relief."
"Family seeks pardon for executed man convicted on faulty science," by Mike Ward in the Austin American-Statesman.
The request for clemency was announced Wednesday morning at a Capitol press conference attended by Ernest Willis, 67, who was freed from death row in 2004 on an arson conviction that was thrown out over the same discredited investigation techniques that got Willingham convicted. Willis was exonerated eight months after Willingham was executed.
“I wish Todd would have gotten the same consideration that I did. He would still be here,” said Willis, who served time on death row with Willingham and became his friend.
There was no immediate indication of when the state Board of Pardons and Paroles might decide on the Willingham request. The board had denied Willingham’s clemency request just before he was executed, without having access to a noted arson expert’s report that refuted the conclusions drawn from evidence in his case.
Harry Battson, a spokesman for the board, confirmed the application had been filed and will be voted upon after review. Despite a request from Willingham’s relatives for a public hearing on the issue, parole officials said current rules don’t allow for that.
Gov. Rick Perry, who would have to approve a pardon based on any favorable recommendation from the board, approved the state’s first posthumous pardon in March 2010 — of Timothy Cole, who spent more than 13 years in prison — and died there — for a 1985 Lubbock rape it was later proven he didn’t commit.
Perry’s press secretary, Catherine Frazier, said the governor hasn’t changed his position: that courts upheld Willingham’s arson-murder conviction and the death sentence. She noted that Perry cannot grant a pardon without a favorable recommendation from the parole board.
"Willingham's family asks for posthumous pardon," by Peggy Fikac and Allan Turner for the Hearst-owned Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
"This isn't about money. ... This is about the future. The future of these people's reputation," Goldstein said Wednesday. "Everyone wants to leave this Earth with a reputation. Todd Willingham is entitled to that just as much as the rest of us."
Goldstein said there is "indisputable evidence" on Willingham's side and "every scientist who has looked at it has agreed that Todd Willingham was convicted on junk science."
Willingham's case came under public scrutiny in 2008 when the New York-based Innocence Project asked the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review the state and local arson investigations that helped send Willingham to death row.
"Cameron Todd Willingham's Family Seeks Posthumous Pardon For 'Wrongfully Executed' Texas Man," by Michael McLaughlin at Huffington Post.
The parole board is expected to take several months to review the pardon request, a spokesman told HuffPost. The seven member panel will then recommend that the governor either approve or reject the petition.
In 2011, the board didn't support approval of any of the 28 capital cases it reviewed in which there was a request for pardon, commuted sentence or reprieve from the death penalty.
If granted, it would be only the second pardon in Texas history issued after a convict's death. In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned Timothy Cole, who died in prison after serving 14 years for a rape he did not commit.
"Petition requests Willingham posthumous pardon," by Janet Jacobs in the Corsicana Daily Sun.
Corsicana fire and police detectives who investigated the death of the three little girls have repeatedly defended their handling of the case — and the 1992 conviction. Willingham was executed in 2004, after a dozen years of appeals.
Filing the petition is just the beginning of the process, according to Harry Battson, spokesman for the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
“We received the application today,” Battson confirmed, adding that it won’t be an overnight decision. “Our clemency people tell us the average is months, not weeks. We’re looking at a period of time before it comes to a vote.”
Before that, the investigators, and the children’s mother will all be asked to file a statement on whether or not Willingham’s name should be cleared.
“They will have an opportunity and time period to input their thoughts on the application,” Battson explained. After all the statements are compiled, then the file will be submitted to each of the board members one at a time.
“They don’t actually vote at a meeting,” Battson said. “They sequentially review the file. Each member reviews it then casts a vote, then it goes to the next board member.”
If a majority of the seven board members vote in favor of granting the posthumous pardon then it will be sent to the governor’s office. The governor doesn’t have to grant the pardon, regardless of how the board votes.
“The board makes a recommendation to the governor,” Battson said.
David Grann's September 2009 New Yorker article is noted here. Steve Mills and Maurice Possley first reported on the case in a 2004 Chicago Tribune series on junk science. The December 9, 2004 report was titled,"Man executed on disproved forensics."
The Innocence Project has a Todd Willingham resource page which provides a concise overview of the Willingham case with links to all relevant documents.