Back in January, I wrote about the Cameron Todd Willingham case from Texas. He's the guy who was executed back in 2004 in what many now feel was a miscarriage of justice. Willingham's case is the subject of a Frontline examination next week.
Yesterday, his family moved to have his name clear and hold the state of Texas accountable for executing a "legally and factually innocent man."
It was an unusual hearing. The subject at the center of it all, Cameron Todd Willingham, was not present. After being convicted of murdering his three children in a 1991 house fire, he was executed in 2004.
Members of Mr. Willingham’s family, working with lawyers who oppose the death penalty, had asked for the rare and controversial hearing, held here on Thursday, to investigate whether Mr. Willingham was wrongfully convicted. They argue that the proceeding, known as a court of inquiry, could restore Mr. Willingham’s reputation, a right guaranteed under Texas law, even to the dead.
But they also say that the hearing is more than symbolic — it could cast in a new light the Lone Star State’s record on executions. And more broadly, they argue, it is a cautionary tale about the power of flawed science to sway a courtroom, and a glaring injustice that could affect debates over the fairness of the death penalty.
It's doubtful the case will be resolved in their favor. I imagine Texas, from its governor to the lowliest of arson technicians, will go to extreme lengths to stave off an admission that they executed an innocent man.
Predictably, the pro-death penalty advocates chimed in as well:
Even if [he should be found innocent], its impact will be minimal, said Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a group that supports the death penalty.
“It’ll be trumpeted on the Death Penalty Information Center site,” he said, referring to a group that opposes capital punishment. “Nobody on the other side of the aisle is going to give it any credence.”
My favorite pro-death penalty guy. What he's saying, in other words, is that even if it's true, that Texas did execute an innocent man, so what? What's one, wrongfully executed dead guy, when we got 1,100 of 'em over the past 35 years? (spit)
As long as it's not you, right?