It seems likely Texas has executed an innocent man.
Cameron Todd Willingham was sentenced to death in 1992 for setting the house fire that killed his three daughters.
Arson investigators said the blaze was deliberately set. According to The New Yorker ("http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann">www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann),they cited about 20 findings - including charring along the bases of walls, puddle-shaped char patterns on the floor,indications of intense heat under the children's beds, evidence of multiple points of origin and glass broken in
spider-web patterns (crazed glass) - as indicative of the use of an accelerant.
Chemical tests for accelerants were done on many suspicious areas, and investigators were surprised when all but one
sample tested negative. A sample from the front porch was positive for mineral spirits. They were convinced, though,that there was no discernible motive.
Mr. Willingham claimed he was innocent and said the fire must have originated in a space heater in the children's room.
He said he was jolted awake by his oldest daughter screaming, Daddy, Daddy!"
The house was filled with smoke.
You could see nothing but black," Willingham said, and when he got to the children's bedroom, he saw flames, felt
unbearable heat, and his hair caught fire.
Unable to reach his girls, he stumbled outside. As firefighters made repeated unsuccessful attempts to enter the
building, Willingham became hysterical and had to be wrestled down and handcuffed.
Two weeks after the fire, he was arrested on suspicion of murder. A jury found the arson investigators' testimony
compelling and convicted him. He spent 12 years on death row, harassed and attacked by other inmates who believed him
to be a baby killer."
A few weeks before Willingham's scheduled execution in February 2004, Dr. Gerald Hurst, a highly regarded fire
investigator in Austin, reviewed the case for Willingham's
Reading through the files, Hurst was amazed at the conclusions. His report described the crazed-glass concept as an
old wives' tale." The other findings on which the original investigators had based their conclusion that an accelerant
was used were typical of a flashover" - the explosive inferno that results when a structure fire reaches a critical
temperature. The original conclusions were based on junk science," Hurst said.
The positive test for mineral spirits on the porch? A charcoal grill and lighter fluid are visible in a prefire image
of the house.
Unmoved by Hurst's report, the Board of Pardons and Paroles denied a petition to stay the execution. Cameron Todd
Willingham died Feb. 17, 2004, by lethal injection, still maintaining his innocence.
More than two years later, a panel of top fire investigators reviewed Willingham's case for the Innocence Project. They
stated that each and every one" of the findings on which Willingham's conviction was based was scientifically proven
to be invalid."
In 2006, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said there has not been a single case - not one - in which it is clear
that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit."
It appears Scalia was wrong.
Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist, has served as
La Plata County coroner since January 2003.