Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Outdated Theories and Folklore" Led to Execution of Innocent Man

A fire-scientist hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission has concluded that Texas fire investigators were grossly mistaken in concluding that Cameron Todd Wilingham likely set the fire that led to his children's death in 1991, and to his execution in 2004:

Among Beyler's key findings: that investigators failed to examine all of the electrical outlets and appliances in the Willinghams' house in the small Texas town of Corsicana, did not consider other potential causes for the fire, came to conclusions that contradicted witnesses at the scene, and wrongly concluded Willingham's injuries could not have been caused as he said they were.

The state fire marshal on the case, Beyler concluded in his report, had "limited understanding" of fire science. The fire marshal "seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created," he wrote.

The marshal's findings, he added, "are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation."

Willingham's execution has faced scrutiny for years now from independent experts, but this is the first state-sanctioned review. It will be difficult for Texas officials to avoid the fact that an innocent man was put to death. Willingham joins Raymond Cantu as instances where the State of Texas executed men who were in all likelihood innocent of the crimes they were convicted of. They were certainly not the first, but hopefully they will be the last.

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