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Texas Executes an Innocent Man

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by ethics, Aug 25, 2009.

  1. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member


    Those smiles belong to Amber Willingham and her father, Cameron Todd Willingham.

    Both of them were killed because of an accidental fire. Amber and her two sisters died in the blaze. Cameron was wrongfully executed by the state of Texas for setting it.

    Today, Texas took the first big step in admitting it murdered an innocent man in its death chamber. And the implications are huge.
  2. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Oh, hell.

  3. Arc

    Arc Full Member

    I think that you seriously misread the article from the ABA. All it says is that a arson expert who is a member of a Texas scientific forensic group unrelated to the state judicial system examined the evidence after the fact and disagrees with the prosecution arson forensic experts on their findings that they testified to at trial.

    The new guy is just another expert offering another opinion which if you take at face value as the definitive truth suggests by implication the father didn't deliberately set the fire.
  4. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Yes, you can say that I've already made up my mind here. It's not really the ABA that I am drawing that conclusion from but the well written Chicago Tribune article that's linked in it.

    And while the jury is still out there:
    As I've said, I've already made up my mind. Based on what I've read on this case, someone is going to answer for that one. Dearly.
  5. Arc

    Arc Full Member

    Ah, sorry, I missed the Tribune link in the ABA article. I need larger print!!!! I read it after reading your post.

    I'm not disagreeing with the new expert or disputing the guy may have been innocent in light of the new expert's conclusions but the way the system works it is unlikely that even if the guy is as right and solid as implied it would not be unusual for anything to come of this other than verbal controversy. It's possible more will happen but unlikely.

    And the most likely worse case scenario for the state or prosecution is some kind of a finding that the state was wrong but life is sometimes unfair and this is one of those cases where humans being humans make mistakes. (Just the messenger here--not saying that is how I feel.)
  6. cmhbob

    cmhbob Did...did I do that? Staff Member

    Arc, go and read the Tribune article. The review by Hurst just prior to Willingham's execution should have at least caused a stay in the execution, to permit review of the case. Hurst systematically destroyed every conclusion in the initital investigation.

    I'm not going to fault the initial investigation, as it relied on things thought to be true in 1994. But when modern science shows those ideas to be false, you must review any case tried using those old ideas.

    Then again, when you have jurors who say they "would have found Willingham guilty even without the arson finding solely because he did not try to save his children," well, the deck is stacked pretty badly.

  7. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

  8. cdw

    cdw Ahhhh...the good life.

    I don't know if he did or didn't set the fire. I know he was a shit until he was in jail but hey, people are shits sometimes.
    The above quote just... struck me. Can any of you imagine not trying to get to your kids? Can you imagine lying about it afterwards for sooo long? To have it together enough right after the fire to make up such a lie? To not be wracked by guilt and crying out, "oh my god, I didn't try to get to them, oh my god how could I have left them"?
    I dunno. Did he set the fire? Who knows. Should he have been put to death if he didn't? No. But damn...
  9. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    New Yorker article seals it for me that he didn't. Hell, the article infuriated as to how many fuck ups there were that lead to his execution.
  10. Greg

    Greg Full Member

    Texas can execute a person in 2004 for a supposed crime committed in 2001? Shit, in California he would be good until at least 2020 due to our lengthy appeals process. Maybe there is an upside to California's dysfunctional justice system.
  11. cdw

    cdw Ahhhh...the good life.

    Well... not really. I mean they followed the system. Does the system suck? Yeah it does. But I didn't see anything about true fuck ups in this particular case. Actually, you take out all of the 'other' cases, that have nothing to do with this one and the article would be half as long, lol. I don't see that anyone fucked up. I see differences of opinions and I see a system that was followed, which I do agree isn't the best.
    Again, I have no clue if he did or didn't do it. I do know that he was shit. Be put to death for being a shit? No.
    I believe there should be a death penalty. I also believe the system should be revamped and not just for death penalty cases. There are plenty of people wrongly convicted and because of our system, can't get out.
  12. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    You need to read the article, fully.
  13. cmhbob

    cmhbob Did...did I do that? Staff Member

    Cyd, the investigation in 1994 relied on "known facts" that were disproven shortly after the turn of the century. The investigators made conclusions based on bad facts. Not faulting them for that. But when two different independant investigators pointed that out to the State of Texas, the State said........nothing, and executed him anyway. Those two reports should have caused an immediate indefinite stay of execution to go back over the facts and make sure he really did start the fire.

    There is significant doubt in my mind that he did. I'd really like to get Stonehawk's opinion on this.
  14. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    That's just one of many, albeit a big one. The Flashover science was made as a fact that can cause similar evidence as arson. But there were more fuckups.

    Let me list them if I can spot them easily:

    --Many arson investigators, it turned out, had only a high-school education. In most states, in order to be certified, investigators had to take a forty-hour course on fire investigation, and pass a written exam. Often, the bulk of an investigators training came on the job, learning from old-timers in the field, who passed down a body of wisdom about the telltale signs of arson, even though a study in 1977 warned that there was nothing in the scientific literature to substantiate their validity.

    --As Hurst looked through the case records, a statement by Manuel Vasquez, the state deputy fire marshal, jumped out at him. Vasquez had testified that, of the roughly twelve hundred to fifteen hundred fires he had investigated, most all of them were arson. Vasquez was one of the lead investigators (since died).

    --Hurst was also struck by Vasquezs claim that the Willingham blaze had burned fast and hot because of a liquid accelerant. The notion that a flammable or combustible liquid caused flames to reach higher temperatures had been repeated in court by arson sleuths for decades. Yet the theory was nonsense: experiments have proved that wood and gasoline-fuelled fires burn at essentially the same temperature.

    --Vasquez and Fogg had cited as proof of arson the fact that the front doors aluminum threshold had melted. The only thing that can cause that to react is an accelerant, Vasquez said. Hurst was incredulous. A natural-wood fire can reach temperatures as high as two thousand degrees Fahrenheitfar hotter than the melting point for aluminum alloys, which ranges from a thousand to twelve hundred degrees.

    --Hurst then examined Fogg and Vasquezs claim that the brown stains on Willinghams front porch were evidence of liquid accelerant, which had not had time to soak into the concrete. Hurst had previously performed a test in his garage, in which he poured charcoal-lighter fluid on the concrete floor, and lit it. When the fire went out, there were no brown stains, only smudges of soot. Hurst had run the same experiment many times, with different kinds of liquid accelerants, and the result was always the same. Brown stains were common in fires; they were usually composed of rust or gunk from charred debris that had mixed with water from fire hoses.

    --Another crucial piece of evidence implicating Willingham was the crazed glass that Vasquez had attributed to the rapid heating from a fire fuelled with liquid accelerant. Yet, in November of 1991, a team of fire investigators had inspected fifty houses in the hills of Oakland, California, which had been ravaged by brush fires. In a dozen houses, the investigators discovered crazed glass, even though a liquid accelerant had not been used. Most of these houses were on the outskirts of the blaze, where firefighters had shot streams of water; as the investigators later wrote in a published study, they theorized that the fracturing had been induced by rapid cooling, rather than by sudden heatingthermal shock had caused the glass to contract so quickly that it settled disjointedly. The investigators then tested this hypothesis in a laboratory. When they heated glass, nothing happened. But each time they applied water to the heated glass the intricate patterns appeared. Hurst had seen the same phenomenon when he had blowtorched and cooled glass during his research at Cambridge. In his report, Hurst wrote that Vasquez and Foggs notion of crazed glass was no more than an old wives tale.

    --Hurst then confronted some of the most devastating arson evidence against Willingham: the burn trailer, the pour patterns and puddle configurations, the V-shape and other burn marks indicating that the fire had multiple points of origin, the burning underneath the childrens beds. There was also the positive test for mineral spirits by the front door, and Willinghams seemingly implausible story that he had run out of the house without burning his bare feet.
    --This is the flashover I've mentioned at the beginning of this post.

    --After Hurst had reviewed Fogg and Vasquezs list of more than twenty arson indicators, he believed that only one had any potential validity: the positive test for mineral spirits by the threshold of the front door. But why had the fire investigators obtained a positive reading only in that location? According to Fogg and Vasquezs theory of the crime, Willingham had poured accelerant throughout the childrens bedroom and down the hallway. Officials had tested extensively in these areasincluding where all the pour patterns and puddle configurations wereand turned up nothing. Jackson told me that he never did understand why they werent able to recover positive tests in these parts.

    Then there was the finding for fire accelerant.

    --Hurst found it hard to imagine Willingham pouring accelerant on the front porch, where neighbors could have seen him. Scanning the files for clues, Hurst noticed a photograph of the porch taken before the fire, which had been entered into evidence. Sitting on the tiny porch was a charcoal grill. The porch was where the family barbecued. Court testimony from witnesses confirmed that there had been a grill, along with a container of lighter fluid, and that both had burned when the fire roared onto the porch during post-flashover. By the time Vasquez inspected the house, the grill had been removed from the porch, during cleanup. Though he cited the container of lighter fluid in his report, he made no mention of the grill. At the trial, he insisted that he had never been told of the grills earlier placement. Other authorities were aware of the grill but did not see its relevance.

    And then there was the clusterfuck of all the later appeals and Bob, this is something you've mentioned as well:

  15. Greg

    Greg Full Member

    That's devastating! All the science looks good to me, that the evidence doesn't show that an accelerant was used and might even show that an accelerant wasn't used.

    But even then, even if the conclusions were true and if you accept that the fire was caused by the use of an accelerant, none of those items indicate who set the fire. Just what exactly was the evidence they used in court to show that not only was the fire deliberately set but that the defendant was the one who was responsible for setting it?
  16. Arc

    Arc Full Member

    The fire/crime was in 1991.
  17. Greg

    Greg Full Member

    Oh. I presume that I misread the article then. Well... 13 years is a bit more civil...
  18. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

  19. Biker

    Biker Administrator Staff Member

    Holy shit! Needless to say, that kinda puts a whole new spin on the original article.
  20. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    To keep things clear:

    1. The article above is an OpEd by the same Judge who presided over the trial. Meaning, of course, that it's in his best interest to have Willingham guilty.

    2. Those are some damning accusations without any form of proof or background. Not to say I am dismissing this off hand, but I would love to see where he is getting these from.

    IF there are facts and not just fluffery, then let's examine them as the original science was of this court. But let's list the accusations here:

    I didn't see anything of the sort, even from his wife. He did beat her, he is no saint, but the motivation above is baseless unless backed with proof and I doubt it will be easy as I said since his wife always claimed his innocence until he was years in to jail and death row.

    I don't even know what to say here except a very large attempt to scrape at the bottom of the barrel? It's well established that he was a coward and he lied because he knew that himself.

    Again, doesn't prove anything except that he is a coward.

    I guess that proves his guilt? Polygraph is not 100% accurate. There's been plenty of stories of innocent people incarcerating themselves via this method. Besides, he is a coward, and he knew he lied about attempt to crawl back to the kids. I am sure that had a lot to do with his decision.

    Basically repeating item #1 with addition to him hating Squirrels or something? This was a lie that was dredged out in New Yorker article.

    The prosecution cited such evidence in asserting that Willingham fit the profile of a sociopath, and brought forth two medical experts to confirm the theory. Neither had met Willingham. One of them was Tim Gregory, a psychologist with a masters degree in marriage and family issues, who had previously gone goose hunting with Jackson, and had not published any research in the field of sociopathic behavior. His practice was devoted to family counselling.

    At one point, Jackson showed Gregory Exhibit No. 60a photograph of an Iron Maiden poster that had hung in Willinghams houseand asked the psychologist to interpret it. This one is a picture of a skull, with a fist being punched through the skull, Gregory said; the image displayed violence and death. Gregory looked at photographs of other music posters owned by Willingham. Theres a hooded skull, with wings and a hatchet, Gregory continued. And all of these are in fire, depictingit reminds me of something like Hell. And theres a picturea Led Zeppelin picture of a falling angel. . . . I see theres an association many times with cultive-type of activities. A focus on death, dying. Many times individuals that have a lot of this type of art have interest in satanic-type activities.

    Hardly objective source.

    Overall, sounds like a desperate attempt to clean Jackson's name via Jackson's OpEd.

    If anything, that OpEd proves that he DID fuck up, more so than I did before.

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