Today's New York Times reports, "Evidence of Concealed Jailhouse Deal Raises Questions About a Texas Execution," by John Schwartz. Here's an extended excerpt from the beginning of this must-read:
In the 10 years since Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham after convicting him on charges of setting his house on fire and murdering his three young daughters, family members and death penalty opponents have argued that he was innocent. Now newly discovered evidence suggests that the prosecutor in the case may have concealed a deal with a jailhouse informant whose testimony was a key part of the execution decision.
The battle to clear Mr. Willingham’s name has symbolic value because it may offer evidence that an innocent man was executed, something opponents of the death penalty believe happens more than occasionally. By contrast, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote seven years ago 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 was convicted on charges of setting the 1991 fire in Corsicana, Tex., that killed his three children, and was sentenced to death the next year. The conviction rested on two pillars of evidence: analysis by arson investigators, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who said that Mr. Willingham had confessed the crime to him.
The arson investigation has since been discredited; serious questions were raised about the quality of the scientific analysis and testimony, which did not measure up to the standard of science even at the time. But the prosecutor who led the case shortly before Mr. Willingham’s execution argued that even though the arson analysis had been questioned, the testimony of Mr. Webb should be enough to deny any attempt for clemency.
In recent weeks, as part of an effort to obtain a posthumous exoneration from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry, lawyers working on Mr. Willingham’s behalf say they have found evidence that Mr. Webb gave his testimony in return for a reduced prison sentence. Evidence of an undisclosed deal could have proved exculpatory during Mr. Willingham’s trial or figured in subsequent appeals, but Mr. Webb and the prosecutor at trial, John Jackson — who would later become a judge — explicitly denied that any deal existed during Mr. Webb’s testimony.
"Lawyers push posthumous pardon in Texas arson case," is by Molly Hennessy-Fiske for the Los Angeles Times.
Attorneys for the family of a man executed in Texas appealed to the governor and state parole board this week to reconsider the case in light of new evidence that he was wrongfully convicted of killing his three young daughters.
“It’s astonishing that 10 years after Todd Willingham was executed we are still uncovering evidence showing what a grave injustice this case represents,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project assisting with the appeal. “The Texas clemency system is severely broken and must be fixed.”
The Innocence Project has a Todd Willingham resource page which provides a concise overview of the Willingham case with links to all relevant documents.
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."