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.