Executed for a crime that never occurred?

In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for setting a fire that killed his three children.  He maintained his innocence to the end, and those who looked into his case, including the Chicago Tribune, have concluded that he was in fact wrongfully executed.  His was one of the 200+ executions under Rick Perry, a governor who has remained willfully oblivious to the huge flaws in his state’s death penalty.  

Yet recently, to its credit, the Texas Forensic Science Commission reopened the case.  A nationally known fire expert, Craig Beyler, was hired to assess how Texas authorities investigated the fire.  According to the Tribune, Beyler’s report is not kind to the Texas investigators, and he determined that there was no scientific reason to believe that the fire was arson at all.  If indeed that is the case, Cameron Willingham was executed for a crime that never occurred – an exceptional cruelty for a man who had already lost his three children.

Beyler ripped the fire marshal who investigated the case, saying, according to the Tribune, that the fire marshal had “limited understanding” of fire science, “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created,” and that his findings “are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will solicit a response from the fire marshal and then publish its final report.  If it reaches the same conclusion that this nationally respected fire expert has, the state of Texas may finally officially acknowledge that it has executed an innocent man.

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28 thoughts on “Executed for a crime that never occurred?

  1. I feel sad at this awful injustice done to Cameron Willingham, but I strongly believe that there is a resurrection and eternal life even for those who are put to death by the death penalty system, especially Wilingham and Jason Getsy. Last week Ohio governor Ted Strickland denied Jason clemency despite the recommendation from its Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Jason was killed by Ohio last Tuesday morning for murder of elderly Ann Serafino. I feel so awful for the injustice of the death penalty, and that the Serafino family got their vengeance in the form of justice satisfied in unknowingly causing the Getsy family grief they were undergoing in the loss of their loved one, but I was able to pray for the forgiveness and comfort of the Serafino and Getsy families in time of sorrow, and I also prayed for Jason’s forgiveness for his horrible crime of murder and for his soul to be with his victim Ann Serafino in heaven once he was executed. I truly believe that Jason showed remorse for the victim's family and made his peace with God before he died, and that he is now with God the Holy Trinity in heaven, praying for the forgiveness and comfort of his family and of the Serafino family and for the forgiveness of the world. May Jason and Ann rest in the eternal peace they truly deserved. :(

  2. I feel sad at this awful injustice done to Cameron Willingham, but I strongly believe that there is a resurrection and eternal life even for those who are put to death by the death penalty system, especially Wilingham and Jason Getsy. Last week Ohio governor Ted Strickland denied Jason clemency despite the recommendation from its Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Jason was killed by Ohio last Tuesday morning for murder of elderly Ann Serafino. I feel so awful for the injustice of the death penalty, and that the Serafino family got their vengeance in the form of justice satisfied in unknowingly causing the Getsy family grief they were undergoing in the loss of their loved one, but I was able to pray for the forgiveness and comfort of the Serafino and Getsy families in time of sorrow, and I also prayed for Jason’s forgiveness for his horrible crime of murder and for his soul to be with his victim Ann Serafino in heaven once he was executed. I truly believe that Jason showed remorse for the victim’s family and made his peace with God before he died, and that he is now with God the Holy Trinity in heaven, praying for the forgiveness and comfort of his family and of the Serafino family and for the forgiveness of the world. May Jason and Ann rest in the eternal peace they truly deserved. :(

  3. Has any state ever actually acknowledged something of that magnitude before? I would have said that even if the new report is unfavorable, Texas wouldn't admit to have been wrong, mostly out of pride. But what else can they do when the truth is staring them in the face?

  4. There have been some posthumous pardons for executions carried out in earlier years, but no state has ever acknowledged that one of its post-1976, post-death-penalty-reinstatement executions was of an innocent person. Whether Texas will do so now remains to be seen. Media investigations, like the Chicago Tribune's of the Willingham or Carlos De Luna cases, or the Houston Chronicle's investigation into the Ruben Cantu case, suggest that Texas has executed more than one innocent man since 1976.

  5. Has any state ever actually acknowledged something of that magnitude before? I would have said that even if the new report is unfavorable, Texas wouldn’t admit to have been wrong, mostly out of pride. But what else can they do when the truth is staring them in the face?

  6. Yes, happily, it was a dissent this time, in the recent Troy Davis decision … What Scalia said is that all that matters is that you receive a "full and fair trial"; if the result of that fair trial happens to be wrong, well, that's just too bad … the courts can help you if your Constitutional rights were violated during your trial, but if the only thing wrong with the trial was that it produced an inaccurate verdict, then you don't have any protection under the Constitution. That's what Scalia said. Fortunately, more results-oriented heads prevailed, with Justice Stevens writing that "[t]he substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing."

  7. There have been some posthumous pardons for executions carried out in earlier years, but no state has ever acknowledged that one of its post-1976, post-death-penalty-reinstatement executions was of an innocent person. Whether Texas will do so now remains to be seen. Media investigations, like the Chicago Tribune's of the Willingham or Carlos De Luna cases, or the Houston Chronicle's investigation into the Ruben Cantu case, suggest that Texas has executed more than one innocent man since 1976.

  8. There have been some posthumous pardons for executions carried out in earlier years, but no state has ever acknowledged that one of its post-1976, post-death-penalty-reinstatement executions was of an innocent person. Whether Texas will do so now remains to be seen. Media investigations, like the Chicago Tribune's of the Willingham or Carlos De Luna cases, or the Houston Chronicle's investigation into the Ruben Cantu case, suggest that Texas has executed more than one innocent man since 1976.

  9. Yes, happily, it was a dissent this time, in the recent Troy Davis decision … What Scalia said is that all that matters is that you receive a "full and fair trial"; if the result of that fair trial happens to be wrong, well, that's just too bad … the courts can help you if your Constitutional rights were violated during your trial, but if the only thing wrong with the trial was that it produced an inaccurate verdict, then you don't have any protection under the Constitution. That's what Scalia said. Fortunately, more results-oriented heads prevailed, with Justice Stevens writing that "[t]he substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing."

  10. Yes, happily, it was a dissent this time, in the recent Troy Davis decision … What Scalia said is that all that matters is that you receive a "full and fair trial"; if the result of that fair trial happens to be wrong, well, that's just too bad … the courts can help you if your Constitutional rights were violated during your trial, but if the only thing wrong with the trial was that it produced an inaccurate verdict, then you don't have any protection under the Constitution. That's what Scalia said. Fortunately, more results-oriented heads prevailed, with Justice Stevens writing that "[t]he substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing."

  11. Thanks for clarifying that, Brian Evans. :) May the souls of Jason Getsy and his victim Ann Serafino rest in peace, as I stated above.

  12. There have been some posthumous pardons for executions carried out in earlier years, but no state has ever acknowledged that one of its post-1976, post-death-penalty-reinstatement executions was of an innocent person. Whether Texas will do so now remains to be seen. Media investigations, like the Chicago Tribune‘s of the Willingham or Carlos De Luna cases, or the Houston Chronicle‘s investigation into the Ruben Cantu case, suggest that Texas has executed more than one innocent man since 1976.

  13. Yes, happily, it was a dissent this time, in the recent Troy Davis decision … What Scalia said is that all that matters is that you receive a “full and fair trial”; if the result of that fair trial happens to be wrong, well, that’s just too bad … the courts can help you if your Constitutional rights were violated during your trial, but if the only thing wrong with the trial was that it produced an inaccurate verdict, then you don’t have any protection under the Constitution. That’s what Scalia said. Fortunately, more results-oriented heads prevailed, with Justice Stevens writing that “[t]he substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing.”

  14. Thanks for clarifying that, Brian Evans. :) May the souls of Jason Getsy and his victim Ann Serafino rest in peace, as I stated above.

  15. I not surprise the are executing innocent people, my son James Edward Martinez was innocent and executed all over a lie, shame on the prosecutors they are suppose to fight for justices not making lies, the real killer is laughing cause he made a fool out of the law…..it is sad now we need to fight for Troy Davis he is INNOCENT…….

  16. I not surprise the are executing innocent people, my son James Edward Martinez was innocent and executed all over a lie, shame on the prosecutors they are suppose to fight for justices not making lies, the real killer is laughing cause he made a fool out of the law…..it is sad now we need to fight for Troy Davis he is INNOCENT…….

  17. For everyone who is concerned that Texas has executed a person who was innocent of the crime for which he was executed, please 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. Texas also needs a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases. Such an office will go a long way towards preventing innocent people from being executed. A moratorium will ensure that no other innocent people are executed while the system is being studied and reforms implemented.”

    Perry never responded to the Willingham family’s letter.

  18. For everyone who is concerned that Texas has executed a person who was innocent of the crime for which he was executed, please 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. Texas also needs a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases. Such an office will go a long way towards preventing innocent people from being executed. A moratorium will ensure that no other innocent people are executed while the system is being studied and reforms implemented.”

    Perry never responded to the Willingham family’s letter.

  19. For everyone who is concerned that Texas has executed a person who was innocent of the crime for which he was executed, please 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. Texas also needs a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases. Such an office will go a long way towards preventing innocent people from being executed. A moratorium will ensure that no other innocent people are executed while the system is being studied and reforms implemented.”

    Perry never responded to the Willingham family’s letter.

  20. For everyone who is concerned that Texas has executed a person who was innocent of the crime for which he was executed, please 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. Texas also needs a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases. Such an office will go a long way towards preventing innocent people from being executed. A moratorium will ensure that no other innocent people are executed while the system is being studied and reforms implemented.”

    Perry never responded to the Willingham family’s letter.

  21. I chanced upon your site via a comment from another blog and am happy I did. Great stuff you've got here…not sure if it's a bug or not but the sidebar seems a little out of sync in Chrome. Bah – I should use IE and stop complaining. Cheers!

  22. I chanced upon your site via a comment from another blog and am happy I did. Great stuff you’ve got here…not sure if it’s a bug or not but the sidebar seems a little out of sync in Chrome. Bah – I should use IE and stop complaining. Cheers!