No motive was ever established.
Witnesses changed their story (Willingam was originally described as frantic to get back into his house to save his children, fighting with police officers and firemen at the scene) when they learned Willingham was a suspect in the fire.
Willingham's local counsel lost faith in him and tried to get him to take a plea. They called one witness on his behalf at trial- the babysitter who opined she didn't think he could kill his kids.
The Prosecution used two expert witnesses in the penalty phase- a family psychologist who never interviewed Willingham and based his diagnosis of Willingham being a sociopath by the posters of rock groups Willingham had in his house, and the infamous Texas Psychiatrist James P. Grigson, who was known as "Doctor Death" and who was expelled from the American Psychiatrist Association for violating ethics.
The prosecution used a jail house snitch- a drug addicted mentally impaired piece of scum who after testifying consistently recanted his testimony and then recanted his recantation, while wondering at one point to a reporter when the statute of limitations on perjury would expire.
Finally, weeks before he was scheduled to die, a reporter who had struck up a friendship with Willingham had a nationally renowned arson expert review the file:
But, based on the evidence, he had little doubt that it was an accidental fire—one caused most likely by the space heater or faulty electrical wiring. It explained why there had never been a motive for the crime. Hurst concluded that there was no evidence of arson, and that a man who had already lost his three children and spent twelve years in jail was about to be executed based on “junk science.” Hurst wrote his report in such a rush that he didn’t pause to fix the typos.
With the report in hand, Willingham's lawyers gave it to the Texas Board of Pardons:
The Innocence Project obtained, through the Freedom of Information Act, all the records from the governor’s office and the board pertaining to Hurst’s report. “The documents show that they received the report, but neither office has any record of anyone acknowledging it, taking note of its significance, responding to it, or calling any attention to it within the government,” Barry Scheck said. “The only reasonable conclusion is that the governor’s office and the Board of Pardons and Paroles ignored scientific evidence.”
Willingham was murdered by the State of Texas for a crime he did not commit on February 18, 2004:
In December, 2004, questions about the scientific evidence in the Willingham case began to surface. Maurice Possley and Steve Mills, of the Chicago Tribune, had published an investigative series on flaws in forensic science; upon learning of Hurst’s report, Possley and Mills asked three fire experts, including John Lentini, to examine the original investigation. The experts concurred with Hurst’s report. Nearly two years later, the Innocence Project commissioned Lentini and three other top fire investigators to conduct an independent review of the arson evidence in the Willingham case. The panel concluded that “each and every one” of the indicators of arson had been “scientifically proven to be invalid.”
Texas established a commission to review possible errors in death cases. One of the first two cases they are looking at is Willingham's case.
In mid-August, the noted fire scientist Craig Beyler, who was hired by the commission, completed his investigation. In a scathing report, he concluded that investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire. He said that Vasquez’s approach seemed to deny “rational reasoning” and was more “characteristic of mystics or psychics.” What’s more, Beyler determined that the investigation violated, as he put it to me, “not only the standards of today but even of the time period.”
So there you have it. Texas killed an innocent man who spent 12 years in hell after losing his entire family including three young children he loved and adored.
Just before Willingham received the lethal injection, he was asked if he had any last words. He said, “The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for twelve years for something I did not do. From God’s dust I came and to dust I will return, so the Earth shall become my throne.” ♦