Tuesday, September 01, 2009


New Yorker reporter David Grann has written an article detailing the execution by Texas of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted in 1994 of setting his house on fire to kill his three young children. The title of the post links to the article. It is a MUST READ.

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.”


Anonymous said...

Why would you "report" about a case that made the NY Times editorial page days ago?

Are things so slow at REG?

Anonymous said...

We won't here a peep outta abe after that post.

Rumpole said...

Bulletin- this is NOT a newspaper and I am NOT a reporter. I pass information along. Did you have the link to the New Yorker article before I posted it?

To the person who is sure they know who I am- I make you the same offer. Pick a lawyer, put 75K in their trust account. I will wire them 150K and we will each sign a binding document- you will say who you think I am, and I will show up, log into the blog, remove my internet filter to show the real address, and you will lose your money.

But lets see how brave you really are.

Anonymous said...

The case makes me sick, just as it should anyone who gives a damn about other people. When I was prosecutor, my biggest fear was not losing a case, but convicting an innocent person. I would hope that every one of us felt or feels the same way (seeing 9:39's post makes me wonder if they do. I sure as hell hope 9:39 is not an ASA).


Anonymous said...

It seems like cases like these are the result of 'experts' and 'scientists' that ignore the standards and ethics of their profession. Prosecute the 'expert' responsible.

Texas Moratorium Network said...

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.


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.”

CAPTAIN said...

Who the hell cares who Rumpole is. The point of this blog is to discuss what is going on in the criminal justice system - both locally and throughout the country.

Sure, we like to blend in a little rumor, humor, and innuedendo, but overall this is a positive forum for our profession.

About the only negative and sometimes ugly thing that takes place on this blog is the personal attacks.

On the positive side, you get good information; knowledge that you can use in your profession.

How else would you have known about the Moratorium on Hand-Shaking called for by Judge Brown in his recent AO.

I thank Rumpole for the ability to discuss these important issues.

Here's a thought; let's all concentrate on something a little more important that figuring out who the heck Rumpy is. Who cares!

Now go buy your Purell and don't forget - no more hand-shaking until the flu season is over.

Captain, Fist-Pumping. Out!

Fake David Markus, maybe O, maybe S... said...

rumpole - pick me ! pick me! i get a 20 percent cut!

Eyeonq said...

Why is the Q opening law offices in Modesto, California and Cambridge, Mass?

Find out! This week in: The Q Review, on line NOW.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about your post Rump because I find the incident so disturbing.

I'm not just disgusted with the so-called expert. I'm disgusted with someone else. And, it's not the prosecutor (who assuredly believed in Willingham's guilt and likely was bamboozled by his so-called expert and flip). I'm disgusted by the pathetic defense in the case. If the state's arson expert was as bad as the reviewing experts say (and I have no reason to believe it wasn't), then one has to wonder if defense counsel even bothered to investigate the case. Just because a defense attorney can sit at the table and do nothing (as so many young PDs are fond of discussing in voir dire), does not mean it's the right thing to do.

We have an adversarial system for a reason. When defense attorneys don't do their jobs, the effects can be disastrous.

We want to believe that all prosecutors want to do the right thing, understand what that is, and are competent to discern what happened. That's not always the case. When they fail, we need competent and judges to take them to task. When an innocent person is prosecuted/convicted/sentenced/executed, we all lose.


Eye on the Q said...

Q being vetted for Sen. Kennedy's vacancy!!

Rumpole said...

I'm not so quick to let the prosecutor off the hook.

There was no motive here. No financial gain, no hint of the man's problems with his kids. At the scene there was consistent testimony that he was beside himself with pain and grief over losing his kids.

The prosecutor appears to have twisted the facts to fit his views, rather than sitting down and asking himself "do we have it wrong here?"

Labeling someone a sociopath because he has a skull tattoo and an iron maiden poster in his house is outrageous. The prosecutor needs to avoid "yes men" witnesses and make sure his witnesses and not telling him what he wants to hear but are doing professional work.

The entire system fell apart except for the Board of pardons which worked exactly the way it was constructed- a rubber stamp via fax approving the execution without reading the report on the new evidence.

Our great system of justice didn't just murder an innocent man- we killed a man after he lost his three infant children. His wife left him, and he wondered how the lord could let him suffer like this. We didn't just murder him, we killed his spirit and his soul before we killed his body.

And does anybody really believe this is the first? We should hang our heads in shame instead of loudly proclaiming how great our system is. I'm in the system, and I'm here to tell you it 's broken almost beyond repair.

TIS TRUE said...

Do your readers know, or remember that in the not too distant past there once was a time when a distinguished lawyer who cut a dashing figure in a bow tie, three piece suit with matching silk tie would often try the most difficult and important cases and stand before the jury, give a slight bow and boom out in a confident voice that calmed the nerves of even the most jittery clients: GOOD MORNING LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, EDWARD FRANK FOR THE DEFENSE.

Ed Frank Fan said...

They still teach the Ed Frank opening at Nova in his fantastic defense in the Key Biscayne Penge Bungalow Murder cases that Ed won in the early 1980's. Stu Mishkin said it was the damdest thing he had ever seen in a courtroom and ASA Larry LaVecchio never knew what hit him.

sexy Fan said...

I care who rumpole is because when I find him, I'm gonna rip his clothes off and drag him to my bedroom and make him talk about zone blitzes and cover two while I ravage him. he drives me wild.

Anonymous said...

you are a seriously ill person 2:43

sexy Fan said...

If you saw my tanned and toned bod, trust me when I tell you that my mental status would be the last thing on your mind. Three weeks ago walking in Coral Gables in a tight short skirt with a belly shirt and moderately high heels I caused a traffic accident when this guy was staring at me and ran the red light on Ponce and crashed into on coming traffic. It was right in front of Houstons,where I was walking to. So If I find Rumpole, he is going to have a very tough time saying no. Did I mention I have blonde hair to my waist when I don't put it in a sexy pony tail?

Rumpole said...

Lets settle down folks. We need cooler heads to prevail here.

pd intern said...

What about my "cuddle bear" Shuminer? I haven't seen him lately.

Anonymous said...

The prosecutor (now a Texas Judge) should definitely not be off the hook. Here's his response to the reports condeming the execution:


My favorite line from the editorial is "I am convinced that in the absence of any arson testimony, the outcome of the trial would have been unchanged, a fact that did not escape the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals."

Umm...the prosecution's theory was that the children died in the FIRE - so I'm thinking the ARSON testimony was kind of important to his case. His arrogance is disgusting.

Also worth a read is the Innocence Project's reponse to his editorial at:


Anonymous said...

Sexy Fan,

150 Grudens says you cant nail Rump on the first date.

Plus, it is so obvious Rump is married and would not engage in such shenanigans. If Rump was single or engaged, he would be having loads of sex with his girlfriend(s) or fiancee. However, once you get married, you replace time having sex with your wife with blogging and handicapping NFL games.


Oh and Shuminer says if you need him, he'll be washing his expensive cars.

Anonymous said...

Rump, while I share your view that the prosecutor is not entirely blameless here, Willingham's attorneys deserve to be disbarred. To call their defense of their client half-assed would be complimenting them. Look at all the "expert testimony" that came in that any defense attorney with more than three months experience would tell you should be excluded.

I have defended clients who I personally thought were guilty as hell. I have defended clients whom I have loathed. I have defended clients whom I privately thought got what they deserved when they received a stiff prison sentence. I think most of you have shared these thoughts at one time or another. If you have not, there is something wrong with you.

But I have never let the above feelings get in the way of doing not only my job, but my sworn duty--to represent each and every client to the best of my ability and fight like hell for each one. That goes even when they reject my recommendation that they take a plea. No capable defense attorney lays down for their client, particularly in a case where your client's life is at stake. If my client wants a trial, I fight for my client, no matter what the odds.

What happened to Cameron Todd Willingham is truly disgusting, extremely sickening and profoundly disturbing. None of the "safeguards" in place in the criminal justice "system" worked to help him. As I read the article, I had no doubt that Mr. Willingham was innocent, let alone reasonable doubt as to his prosecution. He lost his children, his family and ultimately his life--as Rumpole said, his soul was ripped out long before Texas executed him.

I will say a prayer tonight that, at the very least, Mr. Willingham's soul is at peace.

Rumpole said...

I do not disagree with your assessment of the defense.

I am SHOCKED and saddened to hear the prosecutor in this case is a judge and is not big enough and man enough to admit he was the main co-conspirator in a murder case in which the state killed someone at his direction. The use of "Doctor Death" tells you all you need to know- this was a "kill this defendant at all costs" case. Clearly the tragic death of three children inflamed the police and prosecution to the point where they lost their objectivity and compounded a tragedy with another tragedy.

The whole thing stinks and makes me sick. A prayer for Mr. Willingham in the least we can do. I can't get the image of that poor man, his children dead, his wife believing he is the killer, wasting away on death row- branded a child killer, and then murdered by the State. What a horrible horrible waste of a life.

Anonymous said...

Jackie W would kill rumpole for going near you sexy fan

Anonymous said...

saw eiglarsh blovating on tv. he really is a egomaniacal putz

Rumpole said...

3:56- just what about my obsessive/compulsive personality leads you to believe i am married? just curious how you arrive at that conclusion (which I am neither confirming nor denying) when I am addled by the overwhelming desire to eat the same thing for lunch and dinner according to the day of the week, and usually at the exact same time. For instance Tuesdays I eat at the same italian restaurant and have the broccoli rabe (when in season) caesar salad, and pasta con broccoli with light olive oil.

Just wondering how you think some partner would put up with these compulsions (and maybe someone does, but they would have to be a saint).

Rumpole said...

I cant print your well written complaint about the PDs office because you name names in the complaint- unless you can email me some documentation that the person in question made such a complaint- and then I will slam the PDs office for mounting a campaign for covering it up.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know who the woman lawyer is who keeps telling people she's filing against Milt????????????

Anonymous said...

Rump, when are you going to meet 2:43?