Texas Blocks Investigation into Execution of Possibly Innocent Man

On July 29, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled that the state’s Forensic Science Commission (FSC) does not have authority to review evidence regarding the possible innocence of Cameron Todd Willingham (pictured), who was executed in 2004. Willingham was convicted of setting the fire that killed his three children, but investigtions by prominent forensic scientists have discredited the evidence of arson presented at trial. Abbott said evidence that was tested or offered into evidence prior to September 1, 2005 is beyond the scope of the FSC’s legal jurisdiction. In 2008, the Innocence Project filed a complaint with the FSC alleging professional negligence by arson investigators in the case. The Commission previously issued a report finding that the original arson investigators relied on now-outdated science in concluding that the fire was intentionally set. In a statement released by the Innocence Project, Co-Director Barry Scheck said, “We are disappointed in the Attorney General’s ruling…. We believe the reasoning of the opinion is wrong and contrary to the clear intention of the legislature when it formed the Commission. We urge the legislature to correct this injustice and fully empower the Commission to investigate all matters that could help prevent wrongful convictions.”

(T. Eaton, “AG says Forensic Science Commission can’t consider Willingham case, others before 2005,” Austin-American Statesman, July 29, 2011; Innocence Project Press Release, July 29, 2011). See Innocence and Studies.