Texas Judge Opens Court of Inquiry on Execution of a Possibly Innocent Man

Judge Charles Baird of Austin, Texas, will conduct a court of inquiry on October 6–7 (Update: Hearing postponed until Oct. 14) to determine whether Cameron Willingham (pictured) was wrongfully convicted and executed for the death of his three daughters in a fire originally deemed to be an arson. Willingham maintained his innocence up until his execution in 2004. Former Texas Governor Mark White, one of the petitioners for this rare legal proceeding, said that attorneys representing Willingham’s relatives are “prepared to put on witnesses that will be persuasive that the forensic evidence was tantamount to witchcraft.” Last month, the Texas Forensic Science Committee issued preliminary findings that outdated and flawed forensic science was used to determine that the fire that killed Willingham’s daughters was arson, and voted to continue further inquiry into the case. Judge Baird, who will be presiding over the hearings, said, “Obviously the most troubling aspect of this - and it just dwarfs everything else - is whether or not to believe that an innocent person has been executed by the state of Texas.”

Judge Baird also conducted a court of inquiry that led to the posthumous exoneration of wrongfully convicted inmate Tim Cole of Fort Worth, who died in prison.

(D. Montgomery, “Judge to open court of inquiry in Willingham arson case,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 28, 2010). Read more about Cameron Todd Willingham. See Arbitrariness and Innocence.