Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Texas DID execute an innocent man, claim investigators: New evidence reveals prosecutors' secret deal with prisoner who said father admitted killing his three daughters in fire

Newly discovered evidence has suggested that a Texas father executed ten years ago for killing his three daughters in an arson attack may have been innocent.

Cameron Todd Willingham was sentenced to death in 1992 after being convicted of murder based on arson analysis, that was later discredited, and testimony from a jailhouse informant.

But a note found in the case files suggests that the prosecutor may have concealed a deal with the informant, Johnny Webb, who claimed Willingham had confessed to him.

Before Willingham was executed in 2004, a prosecutor argued that Webb's testimony was enough to prove his guilt, after the arson analysis was found to be sub-standard.

In recent weeks however, lawyers seeking a posthumous pardon for Willingham claim the inmate who provided testimony did so to gain a reduced sentence, the New York Times reported.

If that had proved to be the case in the lead up to Willingham's execution, it could have been enough to clear him of guilt.

'It's astonishing that 10 years after Todd Willingham was executed we are still uncovering evidence showing what a grave injustice this case represents,' Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which is working on the case, said.

Willingham's case has been scrutinized by advocates who argue the state may have executed a wrongfully convicted man. Fire science experts already have refuted much of the methodology used in his case.

Webb and the trial prosecutor, John Jackson, have both denied any deal existed during Webb's testimony.

Lawyers from New-York based Innocence Project filed an official request to have Willingham exonerated because of the discredited arson analysis and efforts to cut Webb's sentence.

In November, one of the project's lawyers, Bryce Benjet, was going through files when he found a box of photocopies, which included a handwritten note on the inside of the district attorney's folder.

The note, which is not dated or signed, allegedly stated that Webb's charges were to be listed as a lighter robbery charge 'based on coop in Willingham'.

Mr Benjet described the discovery to the New York Times as a 'rush of excitment', adding: 'This is what we've been looking for.'

Mr Scheck said the case has suggested a weakness in the justice system.

If Webb’s testimony 'was really based on a deal and misrepresentation, then the system cannot be regulated ... you cannot prevent the execution of an innocent person [in those circumstances].'

Jackson, the prosecutor who later became a state district judge, has maintained that Webb did not receive leniency. He told the Associated Press on Friday that he had not seen the note, but believed it was likely referring to efforts he made to get Webb out of prison after Willingham's trial due to threats on Webb's safety.

'The file may certainly reflect that we tried to get sentencing shortened, but it had nothing to do with any agreement relative to the Willingham trial,' Jackson said.

He said imprisoned members of the Aryan Brotherhood had threatened Webb due to his role in Willingham's conviction. 'We certainly had an interest in not seeing a primary witness in the case killed while he was in prison,' he said.

The decision of whether to pardon Willingham will rest with Governor Rick Perry.

Willingham's family said if he was pardoned they would not press for damages. His cousin, Patricia Cox, added: 'We're not asking for compensation, we're asking for justice.'

Original report here




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