Will Texas Admit It Wrongly Executed Cameron Willingham?

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Death chamber in Huntsville, Texas

The death chamber in Huntsville, Texas. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

Today, the family of Cameron Todd Willingham filed a petition calling for his posthumous exoneration.  Exoneration, because he is almost certainly innocent. Posthumous because the state of Texas executed him anyway. More info can be found here, courtesy of the Innocence Project.

A Texas father of three, Willingham was convicted and executed for the alleged murder of his three daughters by arson. However, in a 2011 report, the Texas Forensic Science Commission concluded that unreliable fire science led to Willingham’s 1992 conviction and 2004 execution. Evidence cited as proof of an intentionally set fire, such as pour patterns, discoloration and “crazed” glass, has since been discredited.

If the petition is accepted and Willingham is posthumously exonerated, he will join with Timothy Cole in Texas, and Joe Arridy and Lena Baker in Colorado and Georgia, who, among others, were wrongfully convicted and executed or died in prison while serving out their sentence. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

A Pardon 94 Years Too Late

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Wednesday, Oct. 14, radio host Tom Joyner became the first person to obtain a posthumous pardon for unjust executions in South Carolina.  South Carolina is a typical gung-ho executing Southern state, so this achievement was no small feat.  Joyner obtained the pardon on behalf of two great uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, who in 1915 were wrongfully put to death for the 1913 murder of a white Civil War veteran in Blackstock, SC.  Joyner only found out about this tragic episode because of his participation in African American Lives 2, a 2006 PBS show that traced the ancestries of prominent African Americans.

While Joyner was understandably shocked and motivated to action by this revelation of his family history, the story of what happened in South Carolina 94 years ago is eerily familiar to what goes on in capital punishment in America today.  Certainly, wrongful death sentences and executions (as the Cameron Todd Willingham case definitively demonstrates) are still with us.  The Griffin brothers were framed for the murder by the actual killer, as was the case in John Grisham’s non-fiction study The Innocent Man, and as seems likely to have been the case with Troy Davis. And, as is the case today, legal costs were devastating; the Griffins had to sell off their considerable land holdings (130 acres) to pay for their lawyer. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST