Thursday, August 27, 2009

Executing the Innocent

A new scientific investigation into the evidence used to convict and eventually execute Cameron Todd Willingham has shown that the Texas justice system may have killed an innocent man. The Texas Forensic Science Commission commissioned the investigation by Hughes Associates, Inc., which looked into the scientific evidence that Willingham actually set the fire that burned down his house and killed his children. Though Willingham was convicted of arson and murder, the new investigation found no reason to believe the fire was purposefully set. Not only that, but the fire marshal in charge of the original investigation didn't understand very much about the science of fires at all. In addition to being convicted based on no evidence, Willingham also suffered the testimony of a fellow prisoner who claimed Willingham confessed to the murders in private. Funnily enough, supposed prison snitches are often used to help convict accused murderers. The damage has already been done, of course, even if the state concludes Willingham should never have been executed or even convicted. But it would be the first time a state body has shown that an execution was carried out in error, which may finally put an end to the irrational, unscientific, and barbaric practice of capital punishment. Either that, or death penalty proponents will try to muddy the issue by pointing out that Willingham was probably a wife-beating douchebag. Unfortunately, they'd be right in that accusation. More details here and here.