Friday, September 04, 2009

Bad Science + Amateur Expert + Snitch = Execution of an Innocent Man

In this week's New Yorker David Grann chronicles the tragic story of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham lost his children in house fire in Corsicana, Texas. A local fire inspector called it arson. A jailhouse snitch said that Willingham confessed. A two-day trial followed by a four hour deliberation sealed Willingham's fate. He was executed in 2004.

Unfortunately for Willingham, a re-analysis of the fire, done by a real scientist with a real degree, Gerald Hurst,--an analysis that revealed the fire was not the result of arson--was ignored by those in Texas who were hell-bent on injecting sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride into Willingham's veins.

What runs through the mind of an innocent man facing imminent execution? Willingham's last communications with his parents tell us. When he received word that Governor Rick Perry had denied a last-minute stay of execution, he told his mother, "Don't be sad, Momma. In fifty-five minutes, I'm a free man. I'm going home to see my kids." He told them, "Please don't ever stop trying to vindicate me."

Willingham's heart stopped beating on February 17, 2004, at 6:20 P.M. His death certificate listed the cause of death as "homicide." Who murdered him is clear. They remain at large.

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