What could be worse than being incarcerated 25 years for a crime you didn't commit? Especially when the victim of that very terrible crime was a person or people very near and dear to your heart?
Very sadly, there is something worse; Imagine being found guilty of murdering your children based on junk forensics and an over-the-top prosecutor and sent to Death Row for that crime. Moreover, the 'crime' was nothing more than a freak tragic accident if you believe the word of the most acclaimed scientists that our country has to offer in the area of Arson Science'.
On December 21, 1991, Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted by the State of Texas and sentenced to death for setting fire to his home and killing his three little girls while they slept. His wife, Stacey was out Christmas shopping for the girls when it happened. From day one until the end, February 17, 2004, he proclaimed his innocence, never wavering even when life in prison was offered in place of death in exchange for a guilty plea. So, here's my question for you... If Todd was innocent, wouldn't the State of Texas be guilty of murder?
"What Im guilty of is being a coward, I should have died in that house with my kids." Todd Willingham
Corsicana, TX 1989. Todd Willingham and Stacey Kuykundall were both very young when they became a couple, she was 18 and still in high school and he was slightly older. By December, 1991, the day of the tragic event, Todd was just 21 years old and they were the parents of 3 young girls (Amber, 2, and twin sisters Karmon & Kameron, 1) and the family barely had 2 pennies to rub together. The neighbors were aware as well as the local police department that the young couple had a very turbulent relationship. They were heard fighting and the police had even been called during one of those fights. As anyone can imagine young adults mixed with three babies and poverty can lead to a very 'toxic' environment. However, anybody that knew Todd and saw him with his children, knew that he loved them very much.
Todd was also known for being a 'lady's man' around town and in fact, had been dating a neighbor by the name of Barbara Mote on the side until 3 months before the fire. He called the relationship off with Barbara when he and Stacey suddenly decided to get married. Barbara Mote has been quoted as saying that she was devastated and he was 'the love of her life' but understood because she knew that Todd would have done anything for his children. Leaving Stacey wasn't an option because he would have to leave his three little girls.
In the aftermath of the fire, as in so many other cases, the police department and acquaintances of the couple didn't like Todd's actions, as he didn't seem sad enough to them. He was drinking and 'carrying on' and that is not how a person should react to something like this, therefore he must be a psychopath that killed his children.
I've heard this in so many cases, as if there's some sort of manual as to how a person is supposed to act after a terrible tragedy. Not to say that this shouldn't be cause to question a person. The problem is, that you will find this in just about every case that doesn't have solid evidence. The truth of the matter is, nobody knows how they will react when faced with a terrible tragedy and we, no matter how skilled, will never know for sure that any "hunch" we have about a person's guilt is right.
"Todd didn't show any remorse through the interview until I actually showed him the pictures of his children. And at that time, he started crying. You know, I don't think he was sad so much that he killed the kids as much as that it's coming to light that, you know, he's a suspect in it."
After the investigators minds where made up, 'this was no tragic accident but the case of a cold blooded, psychopath that murdered his children", Todd was asked down to the police station. Again, as in so many other cases, he went willing to answer any questions, without the presence of an attorney and everything he said was used against him. From that night forward, he was 'guilty' of murdering his children.
In an interview with Jimmie Hensley, lead investigator in the case, he had the following to say..
There are obviously three huge problems with this one little statement that I hope are just as apparent to all of you. Why would he show remorse for a crime he didn't commit? What normal man wouldn't cry at the sight of his children's dead bodies? And lastly, how in the world did you, Detective Jimmie Hensley, know what he was thinking?
The jury was chosen from the same small town in which he lived, and in their eyes, punishment couldn't come soon enough. One local bar owner was quoted as saying...
"There's plenty of people walking around in Corsicana, Texas, that if that happened to them today, they would get the benefit of the doubt because they had treated their family in a respectful manner and taken care of them, OK? Todd Willingham had not treated his family in a respected manner, and he didn't get the benefit of the doubt that some people would have."
Other 'evidence' at trial was their theory of the fire being started with an accelerant. Per testimony, Todd even took the time to draw a pentagram with the fluid. (remember, this took place in 1991, apparently there were devil worshipers and satanists all over the country, torturing and murdering the innocent also known as the 'Satanic Panic') To back the devil worship theory, they told the jury of the very dark satanic drawings and posters Todd had hanging in his room (later found to be Led Zeppelin & Iron Maiden posters). Further, jurors were told that he was a violent sociopath and Dr. James Grigson, Ph.d., also known as "Dr. Death", testified to support this, never mind that he hadn't met with Todd in person.
Todd had gotten in a little trouble as a teen, as many boys do, and this was submitted to further show his violent background. In reality, straight from the mouths of the probation officer and Judge that knew him, he was arrested for tampering with an automobile and did a weekend in jail for his 18th birthday. Both Polly Goodin and Bridges, probation officer and judge respectively, described him as a nice, polite kid that as a teenager did stupid crap like steal bikes. He was no sociopath.
The last bit of evidence was testimony from a 'jail house rat', Johnny Webb. He told the court that Todd had confessed to him even though they were only together for a couple of days. This was later recanted, then that was recanted. This guy has issues. The investigators even stated that they knew this young man was not credible but felt he had no reason to lie in this situation (really?).
As we all know, Todd was sentenced to death for the murder of his three children, It took the jury one hour to deliberate. Off he went to prison and he and Stacey divorced soon after.
Before Todd's execution it came to light that not only some, but ALL 20 of the fire indicators used to determine arson were completely bogus. Before 2004, arson investigation had been done by the fire department rather than forensic scientists. The investigators for the fire department had no scientific training or reason to call their opinion that of an 'expert'. In 2004, before scientists took over fire investigation John Lentini, arson expert, was quoted as saying
"The fire investigation community largely consists of people who are firemen. They're not scientists. They don't have any formal scientific training. Extinguishing a fire and investigating a fire involve two different skill sets and two different mindsets".
Upon completion of his study and right before the scheduled execution both John Lentini and Gerald Hurst, Ph.d. (the best there is in the area of arson) were flabbergasted that the conclusion they drew couldn't have been more different from that submitted in trial. Hurst wrote a formal report and it was filed with the court, at last all of Todd's supporters took a deep breath because surely the execution would be stopped. It wasn't.
Right before the execution date Stacey visited Todd in prison for the first time in 12 years and he asked her for two things. Todd asked Stacey to not be present during his execution and that he be buried with his children. To both requests she said no. In the immediate aftermath of their meeting, Stacey came out to the public in support of his scheduled death even though she had always adamantly defended his innocence even after their divorce. She also submitted a sworn affidavit to the court, saying that Todd had finally come clean and admitted what he had done in that last meeting. This infuriated Todd, he had spent 12 years fighting for his life and declaring his innocence and she had literally hammered the last nail in the coffin.
Supporters petitioned the court and went to the highest in power, Governor Rick Perry (you may remember him from the Michael Morton case) but requests for a stay of execution were denied. It didn't matter what the evidence said, as Mr. Perry put it Todd was a monster and wife beater and that was that.
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed February 17, 2004 by lethal injection after 12 years of incarceration, he was just 36 years old.
In the aftermath of the execution, The Innocence project has continued working to clear Todd's name. All of this information can be found at link. Furthermore, Ernest Willis was exonerated based on the very same report written by Hurst before Todd's execution.
Todd's very talked about last words as well as quotes from other very important people in the case below.
Quotes from interviews with those below on Frontline Death by Fire
JOHN LENTINI, Arson Expert: The state of Texas executed a man for a crime that they couldn't prove was really a crime, and the evidence says this was an accidental fire. And if it was an accidental fire, it doesn't matter how many posters of Iron Maiden Cameron Todd Willingham had on his wall, or Led Zeppelin, or whether he liked to play darts or drink beer, or whether he smacked his wife around. It only matters that the fire was not really a set fire.
GERALD HURST, Ph.D., Arson Expert: Here's your first bit of so-called arson evidence. This was typically interpreted in the old days as "a pour pattern." In other words, someone poured gasoline or some other accelerant down the hallway, out the front door and then ignited it.
JOHNNY WEBB, "Jail House Rat": I don't remember. Maybe I did. Maybe it's because what everything I was going through. I told them I was going to recant if someone doesn't help me because they was trying to kill me. You know what I'm saying? Something to put some pressure on somebody to do something to get me out of where I was at.
Cameron Todd Willingham's last words: Yeah. 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 12 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. I gotta go, road dog. I love you Gabby. (Looking through the glass he sees his ex-wife Stacey and finished his statement with final words for her.........
I hope you rot in hell, bitch; I hope you fucking rot in hell, bitch. You bitch; I hope you fucking rot, cunt.
Article written by Lisa Wallace
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