The History Blog

Past and Present

A New View of the Death Penalty

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The current New Yorker features a fascinating examination of a Texas death penalty case by reporter David Grann. Convicted on the basis of faulty forensic evidence, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for the deaths of his three daughters Now forensic experts are convinced that the fire which caused the children’s deaths in 1991 resulted from an accident, not the act of arson that the Texas courts claimed during Willingham’s trial. Willingham, who was poor, could not afford the lawyers or investigators who might have challenged the state’s flawed case earlier.

There are two particularly troubling aspects to this case. The first, of course, is the strong possibility that an innocent man was executed. The flaws in the Texas legal system are equally disturbing. Willingham lacked the means to mount an effective defense, and the legal machinery in the state provided no meaningful assistance to stop the momentum of execution. The case also brings to light the willingness of police and prosecutors to rely on faulty witnesses, jailhouse snitches, and disreputable “experts” on science. If we all know that our legal system is not about justice, this case brings that into painful view yet again. (MM)

(Read the New Yorker article, “Trial by Fire” by David Grann, at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann?currentPage=all)

Categories: General

One Response

  1. Scott Cobb says:

    If you are shocked that Texas executed a person who was innocent of the crime for which he was executed, then join us in Austin at the Texas Capitol on October 24, 2009 for the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty.

    http://marchforabolition.org

    At the 7th Annual March in 2006, the family of Todd Willingham attended and delivered a letter to Governor Perry that said in part:

    “We are the family of Cameron Todd Willingham. Our names are Eugenia Willingham, Trina Willingham Quinton and Joshua Easley. Todd was an innocent person executed by Texas on February 17, 2004. We have come to Austin today from Ardmore, Oklahoma to stand outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion and attempt to deliver this letter to you in person, because we want to make sure that you know about Todd’s innocence and to urge you to stop executions in Texas and determine why innocent people are being executed in Texas.”

    “Please ensure that no other family suffers the tragedy of seeing one of their loved ones wrongfully executed. Please enact a moratorium on executions and create a special blue ribbon commission to study the administration of the death penalty in Texas. A moratorium will ensure that no other innocent people are executed while the system is being studied and reforms implemented.”