Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

A new report was recently submitted to the Texas Forensic Science Commission by The Innocence Project. In the report, the Project "formally submitted two arson cases to [the Commission], along with a request that the panel order a review of arson convictions across the state" based on "expert arson analysis" which the Project asserts "shows an innocent man was executed -- and that other people in Texas may have been wrongly convicted of arson based on erroneous forensic analysis."

This is allegedly "the first time in the nation that scientific evidence showing an innocent person was executed has been submitted to a government entity that is legally obligated to investigate cases, reach conclusions, and direct system-wide reviews to the determine the extent of the problem."

According to the Project's press release:

The two cases the Innocence Project submitted today are the convictions of Ernest Willis and Cameron Todd Willingham. Willis was convicted of arson murder and sentenced to death in 1987, and he served 17 years in prison before he was exonerated. Willingham was convicted of arson murder in 1992 and was executed in February 2004. Among the documents submitted to the commission today is a 48-page report from an independent five-member panel of some of the nation's leading arson investigators, who reviewed more than 1,000 pages of evidence, testimony, and official documents in the two cases.

In the report, the arson experts - with a combined 138 years of experience in the field - say that neither of the fires which Willingham and Willis were convicted of setting were arson. The expert report notes that the evidence and forensic analysis in the Willingham and Willis cases "were the same," and that "each and every one" of the forensic interpretations that state experts made in both men's trials have been proven scientifically invalid. "While any case of wrongful conviction, acknowledged or not, is worthy of review, the disparity of the outcomes in these two cases warrants a closer inspection," the report says.

Innocence Project Home Page.
ACS Blog coverage.
How Appealing coverage.
Legal Reader coverage.
TalkLeft coverage. (And see the comments for good discussion from a relative of one of the experts involved in the case.)

AP coverage.
Chicago Tribune related article.


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