"Family again tries to clear Willingham's name," is Allan Turner's post at the Houston Chronicle.
Despite repeated rebuffs by the state of Texas, relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham on Wednesday again will try to get officials to admit that the Corsicana man was wrongly executed eight years ago for the 1991 deaths of his three young children in a Christmas-season fire.
Eugenia Willingham, the convicted killer's stepmother, and two of his cousins are scheduled to join lawyers from the New York-based Innocence Project in Austin to announce they will ask the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend a posthumous pardon.
Also to be present is Ernest Willis, a West Texas man who spent 17 years on death row for the 1986 suspected arson murders of two Iraan women. In December 2004, 10 months after Willingham's execution, Willis was freed when a Pecos County district attorney concluded the fire in his case likely had been accidental.
A draft of Willingham's pardons petition asserts that "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 had set the fire that killed his children. In fact, today, no credible arson expert would make such a declaration."
Only once, in 2008, has the pardons board recommended that Gov. Rick Perry grant a posthumous pardon. That case involved Timothy Cole, a Texas Tech University student who died in prison 14 years after being convicted of rape. His case – the victim later admitted she had misidentified Cole as her attacker – was a catalyst for a state law providing compensation for exonerated prisoners.
The Innocence Project began championing Willingham's cause in 2008 when it asked the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review the quality of arson investigations leading to the former auto mechanic's conviction.
Three reviews of the investigations, one commissioned by the Innocence Project and another by the forensic science commission, found that Corsicana and state arson investigators had misread evidence at the fire scene. Willingham went to his death at the Texas death house protesting his innocence.
The Petition for Posthumous Pardon and supporting documents are available from the Innocence Project.
The Innocence Project has issued a news release, "Cameron Todd Willingham's Surviving Relatives Petition for Posthumous Pardon 20 Years After Conviction." It's via Business Wire. Here's the beginning:
Twenty years after Cameron Todd Willingham was wrongfully convicted of setting a fire that killed his three young daughters and eight years after his execution, his surviving relatives filed a petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles today seeking a posthumous pardon based on mounting evidence of his innocence.
"It was Todd's last wish that we help to clear his name. We owe that to Todd and to all the other people who might have been convicted based on the same faulty evidence," said Eugenia Willingham, Willingham's stepmother. Patricia Willingham Cox, Willingham's cousin added, "We weren't able to save Todd's life, but thanks to the help of many of the nation's renowned arson experts who reviewed the evidence in his case, we now know that Todd was wrongly convicted. It's time for the state to own up to its mistake and give Todd the justice he deserves."
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.