Scott Martelle writes, "More evidence of a fatally flawed judicial system in Texas," at the Los Angeles Times' Opinion LA blog. He's a member of the paper's editorial board. Here's the beginning:
Can a piece of paper be a smoking gun?
A decade ago, the state of Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham after a trial in which an arson investigation and a jailhouse snitch named Johnny Webb seemed to prove Willingham had set a 1991 house fire, killing his three children.
Yet even before the trial began, doubts surfaced about the veracity of the arson report, which ultimately was discredited as abjectly incompetent. As for the witness Webb, the prosecutor at the time, John Jackson, insisted he had made no deal in return for Webb’s testimony, the kind of detail jurors need to know to weigh the veracity of a witness. In this case, Webb testified that Willingham, who maintained his innocence throughout, had confessed the crime to him in a jailhouse conversation.
It turns out Jackson may have lied about not having struck a deal with his witness. As The Times reported last week, the Innocence Project has unearthed a case file notation (Exhibit ZZ in this court filing) that suggests there had been a deal. The handwritten notation reads: “April says this was to be incl. offense of robbery 2nd — based on coop in Willingham.” Webb’s attorney was named April Silkes, and the reference is to a lower-level robbery charge against Webb than what he had been initially charged with. The now-retired Jackson, who went on to a career as a Texas judge, has been mum since the file surfaced.
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."