(February 28, 2014) The New York-based Innocence Project said Friday it has turned up new evidence that challenges the credibility of a key witness in the capital murder trial of Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana, who the group says was wrongfully executed on Feb. 17, 2004 for the fiery deaths of his children.
Willingham was arrested and charged on Jan. 8, 1992, two weeks after his daughters Amber Louis Kuykendall, 2, and twins Karmon Diane Willingham, 1, and Kameron Marie Willingham, 1, died in the fire two days before Christmas in the family’s home.
The group, which is seeking a posthumous pardon for Willingham, filed documents with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles after discovering what it says is a handwritten note that suggests that the witness, jailhouse informant Johnny Webb, received a deal from Navarro County District Attorney John Jackson in exchange for his testimony against Willingham.
Webb testified that Willingham told him that he set the deadly fire to protect his wife after one of the children was injured or killed the night before.
Webb and Jackson have both consistently denied that any deal was made for the testimony.
Jackson, who later became a state district judge, told The Associated Press Friday night he had not seen the note, but thought that it likely referred to an effort he made to secure Webb’s release after Willingham’s trial because Webb’s safety was threatened.
He said inmates who belonged to the Aryan Brotherhood had threatened Webb because of the role he played in Willingham’s conviction.
Fire experts who have reviewed evidence in the case dispute the testimony of investigators who testified in 1992 that Willingham set the fire deliberately and say that conclusion was based on faulty arson science.
“It’s astonishing that 10 years after Todd Willingham was executed we are still uncovering evidence showing what a grave injustice this case represents,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.
“The Texas clemency system is severely broken and must be fixed. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles can begin that process by conducting a thorough investigation into how the state allowed this execution to go forward in the face of so much evidence pointing to Mr. Willingham’s innocence.”