Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Paul Burka on the Todd Willingham Case

President Lyndon Johnson, speaking about the Vietnam War, once remarked to an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.” Paul Burka, who writes for Texas Monthly, may be no Walter Cronkite (and who is these days?), but his take on the Todd Willingham case in his column on July 27 is an indication that more and more middle of the road Texans are coming around to the realization that Texas executed an innocent person.

From the BurkaBlog:
The integrity of the Texas Forensic Science Commission has been compromised ever since Rick Perry reorganized the commission, installed his longtime politically ally, Williamson County D.A. John Bradley, as chairman, and replaced other members of the commission investigating the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Willingham’s three children died in a fire that investigators said was deliberately set, and he was subsequently sentenced to death and executed. Experts who have studied the case have since concluded that arson investigators used flawed science in determining that the fire was an act of arson.

Predictably, the commission appears to be headed toward a whitewash that will absolve the arson investigators because [according to a report in the Dallas Morning News] they used outmoded standards that were common at the time in Texas….”

Let’s be very clear about what this means. If the evidence on which the conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham was based was fundamentally flawed, then the State of Texas executed an innocent man. It means that an agency of the State of Texas is going to whitewash the killing to protect Rick Perry. And it means that John Bradley and the Forensic Science Commission believe that it is just too bad if improperly trained law enforcement officers present flawed evidence to obtain a conviction in a capital murder case.

We know the truth: The evidence was flawed. If the evidence was flawed, then so was Willingham’s conviction. We can only hope that when this sad episode is over, Perry will make a public statement of regret and clear Willingham’s name with a posthumous pardon. Don’t hold your breath.

1 comment:

dudleysharp said...

Mr. Burka claims that " If the evidence on which the conviction of Cameron
Todd Willingham was based was fundamentally flawed, then the State of
Texas executed an innocent man.' (_The Willingham case,_
(http://www.texasmonthly.com/blogs/burkablog/?p=7563) BURKABLOG, 7/27/2010)

Mr. Burka has, wrongly, assessed this case and the evidence.

1) The critical forensic reports have found it impossible to determine the
origin of the fire. If arson, the reviews find, a flashover would have
rendered the fire indistinguishable from an accidental fire. It could have
been arson. It could have been an accident.

But, that is hardly the end of the discussion.

2) The Texas Fire Marshall’s Office, as of Oct. 2009 disagrees. They are
sticking by their experts evaluation of the Willingham fire as arson,
meaning they will have to undermine Beyler’s report and others, which they were
aware of.

Obviously, under either or both of those Todd Willingham cannot be called

It may be prudent to wait on that report.

3. The Beyler Report has had numerous critics, inclusive of me and the
Dallas Morning News, which found a remarkable revelation. Beyler didn't know
that one of Todd’s children was found, nearly dead of smoke inhalation, in
the same bed that Todd said he was in when he said woke up to the fire.

Makes you wonder about Beyler’s review, doesn’t it? If not, it should. The
report had additional problems, as well.

4. Put that into the many conflicting stories Todd told of the fire and his
efforts to save his children and you have one lie after another. Why
would he lie?

5) Then you have the highly quoted “Trial By Fire”, a journalism for the
defense piece which, inexplicably, went out of character for one paragraph.
On the eve of his execution, Todd confessed to his parents that he never
tried to save his children.

6) An alleged witness to the crime has, recently, last fall, come forward
and given a statement to the police, that while the house was burning he
observed Willingham taking belongings out of the house and putting them into
his car, instead of trying to rescue his children. There is, allegedly, a
second witness who can corroborate that story, a witness who has not been
contacted or confirmed, because he allegedly doesn't want to be identified. I
hope the police are still working on getting his statement, if valid.

Very important. But the media is avoiding it like the plague, even though
they rally around any alleged witness that claims an innocent executed.

7) And, of course, we have Willingham’s ex wife and mother of the 3 dead
children, now stating that Willingham confessed to the murders.

Now you can see why I came up with this title:

“Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”, A Collection of

Read them.

Of course there is going to be conflicting testimony. But, at least give
the facts a fair hearing for your readers.