400 People from 125 Texas Towns — Including 15 Exonerated with DNA Testing — Urge State Panel to Continue Willingham Probe
With legislative hearing set for Nov. 10, letter tells new Forensic Science Commission chairman that ongoing investigation must continue
(AUSTIN; October 22, 2009) – An independent state review of the forensic science analysis in the Cameron Todd Willingham case must continue in order to maintain confidence in the state’s criminal justice system, more than 400 concerned Texans from more than 125 cities and towns told the newly installed chairman of the state’s Forensic Science Commission today.
The letter to newly-appointed Texas Forensic Science Commission Chair John Bradley was also signed by 15 Texans who were wrongfully convicted and later exonerated with DNA testing; several of them were wrongfully convicted based in part on improper or unvalidated forensic science. They served a combined 201 years in Texas prisons before DNA proved their innocence.
Meanwhile, the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee is set to hold a special hearing on November 10, where Bradley will answer legislators’ questions about the status of the Forensic Science Commission’s work and plans for continuing ongoing investigations.
For more than two years, the Forensic Science Commission has been looking into the Willingham case to determine whether the forensic analysis was proper. In 2006, the Innocence Project filed the case with the commission, formally requesting an investigation. Willingham was convicted of killing his three young children by intentionally setting fire to his home, and he was executed in 2004. In the last five years, seven nationally renowned arson experts have independently examined the forensic evidence in the case in three separate reviews. All have found that the forensic analysis used to deem the fire an act of arson was completely wrong. One expert’s report was sent to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Board of Pardon and Paroles before Willingham was executed, but it was apparently ignored. In late August, following a year-long investigation of the case, The New Yorker published a 16,000-word article that also disproved all of the circumstantial (non-scientific) evidence against Willingham. Earlier this month, Gov. Perry removed several members of the Forensic Science Commission just as they were to review a report by an independent, nationally renowned expert hired by the commission who found that the forensic analysis in Willingham’s case was wrong.
“The expert report on the Willingham case confirms what every other independent expert has found for the last five years. Unless that report gets a fair hearing and the commission finishes its work in this case, Texans’ faith in our criminal justice system will suffer a terrible blow,” the letter from hundreds of concerned Texans to Bradley says. Download the full letter here (PDF). Visit the Innocence Project’s online Resource Center on the Willingham case for more background..
“The Willingham case raises questions that simply will not go away until they are fully investigated and addressed,” said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. “The issue before the Forensic Science Commission is not whether Willingham is innocent. Instead, the commission is looking into whether the forensic analysis in Willingham’s case was proper and true and, by extension, whether other arson cases in Texas may have been tainted by faulty forensic work. These are important questions, and politics should not dictate what the answers are or when we get the answers.”
The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. To date, 244 people nationwide have been exonerated through DNA testing – 39 of them in Texas – and dozens of states have implemented critical reforms to prevent wrongful convictions.