Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Court of Inquiry to determine if Cameron Todd Willingham was wrongfully convicted and executed

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
AUSTIN -- A Travis County judge today ordered a court of inquiry to determine if Cameron Todd Willingham was wrongfully convicted and executed in the deaths of his three daughters, who perished in a Corsicana house fire in 1991.

Judge Charlie Baird, who also conducted a court of inquiry that led to the exoneration of wrongfully convicted inmate Tim Cole of Fort Worth, told the Star-Telegram that he has decided to move forward with the court of inquiry into the Willingham case after reviewing a petition filed Friday by lawyers representing Willingham’s relatives.

“I have decided that the petition warrants a hearing,” Baird said in a telephone interview. The inquiry will be held in his courtroom on Oct. 6-7, but Baird said it could be extended if necessary.

Willingham was found guilty of deliberating setting the fire that killed his daughters -- 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron. The unemployed Corsicana mechanic went to his death in 2004 insisting that he was innocent.

The case became the center of national attention after several fire experts concluded that the arson investigation against Willingham was flawed and based on outmoded techniques. It has also been the focus of a controversial review by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which opened an inquiry into the arson investigation in 2006.

Baird said he made his decision early this morning after staying up until midnight Sunday reviewing the 55-page petition.

“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,” he said.

The inquiry could lead to Willingham’s posthumous exoneration if the findings warranted, said Baird. He said he has no preconceived view on Willingham’s guilt or innocence but felt that questions raised by Willingham’s case justified further examination.

“I agree with them that they’re entitled to a hearing but I wouldn’t say at any level that he’s innocent,” Baird said. “A lot of this stuff has either been done piecemeal or in secret and this will bring it all to light.”

Baird said he has ordered a subpoena to demand the appearance of the jail trusty who testified that Willingham admitted the crime while he was in jail awaiting trial. He also sent invitations to Gov. Rick Perry’s chief counsel, the Texas Fire Marshal, the Navarro County district attorney and the state prosecuting attorney, but said their appearance wasn’t necessary.

Perry has defended the execution, describing Willingham as a “monster” whose appeals were repeatedly rejected by state and federal courts. Willingham supporters have accused Perry of interfering with the commission’s inquiry by ordering a shakeup of the membership during a crucial phase of the inquiry, but the governor has dismissed those assertions.

Baird said he could make a ruling within two weeks after the court of inquiry concludes it review.

Exoneration of Todd Willingham Sought in Court of Inquiry Hearing in Austin

The Austin American Statesman is reporting that lawyers for Todd Willingham's family are asking for a Court of Inquiry to exonerate Todd Willingham. Cory Session, brother of Timothy Cole, advocated for a Court of Inquiry in the Todd Willingham case when he spoke at the Texas Capitol on October 24, 2009 during the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty (watch video).

From the Statesman:
Setting the stage for what could be an extraordinary court inquiry into whether Texas executed an innocent man, lawyers for relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham, put to death for the 1991 arson murder of his three young daughters in Corsicana, on Friday petitioned a judge in Travis County to hold a hearing on whether Willingham was wrongly convicted.

The lawsuit was filed with state District Judge Charlie Baird, who last year issued the state's first posthumous DNA exoneration in a rape case originally tried in Lubbock. Baird is a trial judge who previously had nothing to do with the Lubbock or Willingham cases.

Willingham's execution six years ago has received national attention. Several arson experts in recent years have rejected the science that the investigators who testified at Willingham's trial used to determine that the fire that killed his daughters was intentionally set.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission began reviewing the Willingham case in 2006 but has not reached any conclusions. Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, the chairman of that commission since last year, said in an interview Friday that Baird does not have the legal authority to consider the Willingham case. "I would say the political end for this one is to abolish the death penalty," Bradley said.

In a later e-mail, Bradley suggested that the Willingham family lawyers improperly filed the case directly with a judge who he said "has no public to hold him accountable" because he isn't running for re-election. Baird is a Democrat whose term on the 299th District Court expires at the end of the year.

Baird agreed last year to hear the Lubbock case, centered on the wrongful conviction of Timothy Cole, who died in prison, under a provision of the Texas Constitution that states, "All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him in his \u2026 reputation shall have remedy by due course of law."

The Willingham lawsuit was filed in part under a similar legal claim.

It also asks that Baird open what is called a court of inquiry in the case to determine whether probable cause exists to charge Texas officials with official oppression. The suit claims that those officials, who were not named, committed that crime by failing to consider before Willingham's execution that he was convicted on discredited arson science.

"We are not looking or asking for anything other than a fair and impartial review of the facts and the law in this case," said San Antonio lawyer Gerald Goldstein, who represents Willingham's relatives along with former Texas Gov. Mark White and Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project.

Baird said he would hold an evidentiary hearing on the case next month if, after reviewing the filing, he deems the case worthy.

Willingham was convicted of murder in 1992 in the deaths of his children —1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron and 2-year-old Amber — who died of smoke inhalation after a fire at the family's house in Corsicana, about 55 miles northeast of Waco. He maintained his innocence until his 2004 execution.

Willingham's lawyers said they first presented claims that he was convicted on faulty scientific arson theories to the office of Gov. Rick Perry in the days before his execution.

Since 2006, they have pursued their case with the Forensic Science Commission, whose hired expert last year issued a report identifying numerous scientific shortcomings in the Willingham fire investigation.

At a meeting this month, members of the commission wrestled with the scope of their investigation.

Bradley had supported a draft report that said investigators of the Corsicana fire could not be held accountable for relying on arson indicators now known to be unreliable or misleading because they were following the best available practices of the time.

But some of the commission's scientists said they wanted to look at other issues, including whether the state fire marshal's office, which investigates fires statewide, has a duty to reopen cases once it realizes that earlier investigative practices have been debunked by scientific advancements.

The commission has agreed to convene a panel of fire experts at a November meeting.

The Willingham family's 62-page suit was filed with hundreds of pages of exhibits and indicates that copies have been delivered to Perry's office, the state fire marshal's office, the Navarro County district attorney's office and the office of the state prosecuting attorney, which represents the state in cases at the Court of Criminal Appeals.

It is unclear whether officials in those offices would be made to participate in the inquiry or what a hearing in Baird's court on the Willingham case would entail.

Perry has called Willingham a "monster" and said he believes he is guilty; the fire marshal's office has stood by its original determination that Willingham's house was torched intentionally. A Perry spokeswoman on Friday noted in a statement that Willingham's conviction had been upheld by courts nine times.

Goldstein declined to say whether he planned to seek to subpoena any officials if Baird agrees to hold a hearing.

The February 2009 hearing on the Cole case lasted two days and included testimony from Michele Mallin, the woman whom Cole was convicted of raping, and Jerry Johnson, a prison inmate serving a life term who said he was the one who raped Mallin and was implicated in a later DNA test.

Lawyers for the Innocence Project of Texas questioned the witnesses. No one cross-examined them.

In the Willingham case, Corsicana officials have said they stand by their investigation and conclusions and say they continue to believe he was guilty. Willingham's trial defense lawyer also has said he believes his former client was guilty.

If Baird holds a hearing in October, it would come before the Texas gubernatorial election pitting Perry, a Republican, against Democratic challenger Bill White, a former Houston mayor. Election Day is Nov. 2.

Willingham was executed during Perry's tenure, and Perry was accused of playing politics with the case last year when he replaced three members of the nine-member Commission on Forensic Science, including the chairman, Austin defense lawyer Sam Bassett.

The members, whose terms had expired, were replaced just days before the commission had been scheduled to hear the findings of the expert they had hired to evaluate the case. That presentation was postponed indefinitely.

Junk Science of Dog Scent Lineups Gets Murder Conviction Thrown Out - Man to be Freed

The more you read about this case the angrier you will get that people have been sitting in prison because of a bunch of yahoo East Texas prosecutors. Those prosecutors should be held accountable. We haven't heard about such nonsense science being used to wrongfully convict someone since some ignorant fire investigators and prosecutors used junk science to convict Todd Willingham.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

The state's highest criminal court Wednesday threw out the murder conviction of an East Texas man, ruling that results from controversial dog "scent lineups" are not reliable enough to stand on their own in court.
The decision means that Richard Winfrey Sr. , 56, now serving a 75-year sentence in state prison, is acquitted and will go free.
No physical evidence tied Winfrey to the brutal 2004 murder of a neighbor in Coldspring, about 20 miles east of Huntsville. But three bloodhounds owned and trained by Keith Pikett , a now-retired Fort Bend County deputy sheriff, indicated that they smelled Winfrey's scent on a gauze pad that had been wiped on the victim's clothes and stored in a plastic bag for three years.
A San Jacinto County jury convicted Winfrey of murder based almost entirely on the lineup results, according to Wednesday's decision. On appeal, Winfrey's lawyers claimed the scent lineups were unreliable and quoted scientists and dog experts who found Pikett's methods to be unethical, unprofessional and biased in favor of law enforcement.
Wednesday's decision means prosecutors can continue to introduce scent lineups at trial, but only if the conclusions are supported by other, corroborating evidence.
The Court of Criminal Appeals declined to delve into the bigger question of whether dog scent lineups should be admissible in court at all. Because Winfrey's lawyer failed to object to the lineup at trial, the issue was not eligible for review by the appeals courts, a concurring opinion by four judges noted.
Instead, the court ruled 8-0 that prosecutors had failed to present any credible evidence, beyond the dogs' identification, tying Winfrey to the crime.
"I am so glad to know that they saw that poppycock stuff," said Shirley Baccus-Lobel , Winfrey's appeals lawyer. She said the Winfrey family was "deliriously happy" to hear the news.
On their own, scent lineups do not provide enough evidence to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, said the opinion by Judge Barbara Hervey . Scent is easily transferred and is "not proof positive that (Winfrey) came in contact with the victim," she wrote.
Several other justices, during oral arguments in April, also noted that prosecutors could not prove that Winfrey's scent, even if present on the victim's clothing, was transferred during the crime.
"We acknowledge the invariable truth espoused by (U.S. Supreme Court) Justice (David) Souter that 'the infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction,'\u2009" Hervey wrote. "We conclude that scent-discrimination lineups, when used alone or as primary evidence, are legally insufficient to support a conviction."
The unanimous opinion overturned a lower court that affirmed Winfrey's conviction in the murder of Murray Burr, who was badly beaten and stabbed 28 times in his home. No witnesses saw Winfrey at Burr's house. He did not match DNA, fingerprints, a bloody footprint or any of the 73 hairs taken from the crime scene. None of Burr's possessions were found with Winfrey, Hervey noted.
Bill Burnett , the San Jacinto County district attorney who argued that Winfrey's conviction should be upheld, died in June, about six weeks after oral
arguments. His office declined to comment on the case.
Police also charged two of Winfrey's children with Burr's murder — Megan, who was 16 at the time, and Richard Jr., who was 17.
Megan was found guilty of capital murder, but her brother — after hiring a new lawyer who aggressively challenged the science and methodology behind Pikett's lineups — was acquitted by jurors who deliberated only 13 minutes.
Megan's lawyer, Scott Pawgan , has already begun drafting a supplemental brief in the 9th Court of Appeals based on Wednesday's opinion. "The evidence in Megan's case is almost identical to her father's," Pawgan said.
Megan's trial lawyer also failed to object to Pikett's lineup testimony, but Baccus-Lobel predicted that it is only a matter of time before the right case arrives that will allow the Court of Criminal Appeals to weigh the admissibility of scent lineups.
From 1993 to 2009, Pikett and his dogs conducted hundreds of scent lineups for about 20 Texas counties, the Texas Rangers, the state attorney general's office and federal agencies, court documents show. Pikett trained a half-dozen of his bloodhounds — sporting names such as Columbo, Quincy, James Bond and Clue — to conduct scent lineups using methods he created or learned from dog training seminars.
He claimed his dogs were nearly infallible in tying suspects to crime scenes.
However, at least four lawsuits are pending that allege Pikett's dogs erred, including a case involving two men who were charged with a triple murder in Houston before the killer confessed.
In Winfrey's case, Pikett placed six unsterilized coffee cans about 10 steps apart, outdoors and on the ground. One can held a gauze pad that had been wiped on Winfrey's skin. The others were filled with scent pads, taken from several hundred Pikett carries with him, that matched Winfrey's race and gender.
Pikett had a bloodhound smell a scent pad from clothes Burr was wearing when he was killed, and then walked a leashed dog by the cans until it turned or barked, alerting him to a matching smell.
Forensic scientists and professional dog handlers have stepped up their criticism of Pikett's methods, which they say lack scientific understanding and safeguards. For example, the cans are not cleaned between use, and ungloved handlers typically placed the gauze pads inside, mingling scents.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Keith Hampton Endorsed by Dallas Morning News Editorial Board

The Dallas Morning News has endorsed Keith Hampton in his campaign to become a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The CCA's presiding judge is Sharon Keller, who has been issued a "Public Warning" for judicial misconduct. Visit Hampton's website at:

From the DMN:
Three seats on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are up for election this year. The Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest criminal court in the state, hearing criminal appeals – including death penalty appeals. Judges serve six-year terms. We are recommending in the only race being contested by both major parties.
Elections 2010
Early voting: Oct. 18-29
Election Day: Nov. 2
For more information: Call the Dallas County elections office at 214-637-7937; visit; call the Texas secretary of state's office at 1-800-252-8683; or
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has developed a reputation as a court that turns its back on verdicts that need a second or third look.
It's easy to see why. Seven of the nine judges have backgrounds as prosecutors, and the presiding judge once campaigned as "pro-prosecutor." Court-watchers recite a list of marquee cases of failed justice. The court's tilt is a concern, considering that Texas leads the nation in executions and has far more DNA-proven miscarriages of justice than any other state.
The Nov. 2 election for Place 6 on the court is an opportunity for a rebalancing. Austin defense attorney Keith Hampton, running against veteran Judge Michael Keasler, has the legal credentials and a perspective now missing on the court: If elected, he would be the only member to have involvement in a capital murder case from indictment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hampton, 49, a Democrat, has pushed for important legal reforms in Austin as legislative director for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. One effort led to a law giving juries the option of life without parole for murderers. An unsuccessful effort last year would have improved police photo lineups – an overdue reform in light of widespread cases of documented witness misidentification.
If elected, Hampton says, the robe goes on, the "advocacy stops" and the job becomes restrained application of legal precedent.
Likewise, Keasler says judges are bound to precedent, even when they don't like the result. Keasler says he prosecuted 432 jury trials for the Dallas County District Attorney's office before he was elected to a local judgeship in 1980. And he describes himself as on the conservative end of the appeals court.
Keasler concedes that the court has a poor reputation, but he says the quality of its work has improved drastically in recent years, bringing it into "the mainstream" nationally.
Still, in some death penalty cases, the court has appeared more concerned with procedure than the possibility of new information that could affect the outcome. A high-profile example involved murder accomplice Kenneth Foster, who raised claims of new information in 2007 that the court refused to address. (Gov. Rick Perry commuted the death sentence to life based on concerns that Foster was tried jointly with the triggerman).
Keasler has written and taught extensively and has been active in judicial organizations nationwide. He should be respected for his contributions, but this court would benefit now with Hampton sitting in his seat.
Frisco attorney Robert Ravee Virasin, 38, a Libertarian, also is on the ballot.

Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial

Complete transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 trial, divided into five documents on

Part 1 Contains beginning of proceedings, opening statements and first day of witness tesimony and cross examination. (270 pages)

Part 2 Contains second day of witness tesimony and cross examination. (146 pages)

Part 3 Contains opening and closing arguments, verdict and jury polling. (53 pages)

Part 4 Contains beginning of punishment phase. (209 pages)

Part 5 Contains defense arguments, the state’s arguments, verdict and formal sentencing. (30 pages)

Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 1 of 5)

Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 2 of 5)

Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 3 of 5)

Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 4 of 5)

Complete Transcripts from Cameron Todd Willingham’s 1992 Trial (Part 5 of 5)

Video Preview of Upcoming PBS Frontline Documentary on Todd Willingham Case

Death by Fire
On air and online October 19, 2010 at 9:00pm (check local listings)

Click here to watch video preview on Frontline site.

Did Texas execute an innocent man? Several controversial death penalty cases are currently under examination in Texas and in other states, but it's the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham—convicted for the arson deaths of his three young children—that's now at the center of the national debate. With unique access to those closest to the case, FRONTLINE examines the Willingham conviction in light of new science that raises doubts about whether the fire at the center of the case was really arson at all. The film meticulously examines the evidence used to convict Willingham, provides an in-depth portrait of those most impacted by the case, and explores the explosive implications of the execution of a possibly innocent man.

11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
October 30, 2010 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol
Austin Texas

Video of Todd Willingham's Family Testifying to Texas Forensic Science Commission

The Texas Forensic Science Commission met in Dallas on Sept 17, 2010. Todd Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia, and two of his cousins, Patricia Willingham Cox and Judy Willingham Cavner, testified to the packed meeting. Watch the video on YouTube.

Video by Texas Moratorium Network

October 30, 2010 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol
Austin Texas

Videos of News Coverage of Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting on Todd Willingham

Texas Moratorium Network attended the meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission on Sept 17, 2010 in Dallas. Below are some media coverage on Dallas TV stations. The yellow and blue signs on the walls were brought to the meeting by TMN.

Video From MyFox Dallas Fort Worth (Contains comments by Rick Perry):

Video from NBC Dallas:

Video from WFAA (ABC) Dallas:

October 30, 2010 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol
Austin Texas

Video Explaining Catholic Church’s Teaching Regarding the Death Penalty

This 10 minute video, with reflection questions, provides an explanation of the Catholic Church's teaching regarding the death penalty, In addition to the principles, it discusses their application in the United States today. It includes comments by Bill Pelke, president of the Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing. Bill and members of the JOH will be attending the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin on October 30 at the Texas Capitol. Journey of Hope will be conducting a speaking tour in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin in the two weeks leading up to the annual march in Austin.

John Lentini Responds to Letter from Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado on the Todd Willingham Case

9:04 PM on September 15, 2010

John Lentini posted the following as a comment to an editorial in the Dallas Morning News:

I was the Chairman of the Arson Review Committee, affiliated with the Innocence Project that got the Commission interested in these two cases. Until very recently, I understood that the question before the Commission concerned the responsibility of a state agency after it learns that it has used flawed science to obtain a conviction. That apparently has changed.

I have recently been provided with the August 20, 2010 letter from Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado on the Willingham case, in which he states that the Texas State Fire Marshal's office “stands behind the original investigator’s report and conclusions.” Although it is understandable that a state agency would resist admitting to an unspeakable error, I feel compelled to reply to some of the information provided in that letter, which seems to be designed to mislead the Commission and the public about the quality of work done by the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office in the Willingham case.

(I note that Mr. Maldonado's letter does not deal with the Willis case, but because the evidence in the two cases was nearly identical, one would presume that it is the Fire Marshal's office position that Ernest Willis was, in fact, guilty, and should have been executed as well. It would be interesting to hear Mr. Maldonado's position on that subject.)

With respect to the specific answers provided, what Mr. Maldonado seems to have done is to look very selectively at the report, and then took an equally selective approach to the guidance in NFPA 921.

I note that nowhere in his correspondence to the Fire Marshal refer to actual trial testimony, which presumably contains some of the "conclusions" by which the Fire Marshal's office is standing. In this letter, I will first discuss the parsing of the Guide and the parsing of the report, and then I will discuss some of the more outrageous sworn testimony by Deputy Fire Marshal Manuel Vasquez.

There is much discussion of V-patterns and low burning, and some quotations from NFPA 921, but the letter leaves off the most important guidance from NFPA 921 about interpretation. One may cite “observations” all day long, but it is the forensic scientist’s interpretation of those observations that sways a jury. I note that the Fire Marshal attached copies of two editions of NAPA 921, and would urge the scientists on the Commission to read the entire sections cited, rather than the isolated sentences.

Here is the important guidance on interpretation of low burns and irregular patterns: Irregular Patterns.

Irregular, curved, or “pool-shaped” patterns on floors and floor coverings should not be identified as resulting from ignitable liquids on the basis of observation of the shape alone. In cases of full room involvement, patterns similar in appearance to ignitable liquid burn pattern scan be produced when no ignitable liquid is present.

The lines of demarcation between the damaged and undamaged areas of irregular patterns range from sharp edges to smooth gradations depending on the properties of the material and the intensity of heat exposure. Denser materials like oak flooring will generally show sharper lines of demarcation than thermoplastic (e.g., nylon) carpet. The absence of a carpet pad often leads to sharper lines.

These patterns are common in situations of postflashover conditions, long extinguishing times, or building collapse. These patterns may result from the effects of hot gases, flaming and smoldering debris, melted plastics, or ignitable liquids. If the presence of ignitable liquids is suspected, supporting evidence such as the use of a combustible gas indicator, chemical analysis of debris for residues, or the presence of liquid containers should be sought. It should be noted that many plastic materials release hydrocarbon fumes when they pyrolyze or burn. These fumes may have an odor similar to that of petroleum products and can be detected by combustible gas indicators when no ignitable liquid accelerant has been used. A “positive” reading should prompt further investigation and the collection of samples for more detailed chemical analysis. It should be noted that pyrolysis products, including hydrocarbons, can be detected in gas chromatographic analysis of fire debris in the absence of the use of accelerants.

It can be helpful for the laboratory, when analyzing carpet debris, to burn a portion of the comparison sample and run a gas chromatographic analysis on both. By comparing the results of the burned and unburned comparison samples with those from the fire debris sample, it may be possible to determine whether or not hydrocarbon residues in the debris sample were products of pyrolysis or residue of an accelerant. In any situation where the presence of ignitable liquids is suggested, the effects of flashover, airflow, hot gases, melted plastic, and building collapse should be considered. (Emphasis added)

Nowhere in the record is there any indication that Mr. Vasquez gave even the slightest consideration to the possibility that the full room involvement that occurred in this case may have been responsible for the alleged “pour patterns.”

Mr. Maldonado’s most obvious attempt to mislead the Commission and the public occurs at paragraph number seven, where the following quotation occurs. "The investigation report stated: The pieces of broken glass on the ledge of the north windows to the Northeast bedroom just closed a craze (spiderwebbing) condition." The letter that goes on to cite a section of NFPA 921 that indicates there is no published research to confirm that crazing indicates rapid heating. I was the author of the published research referred to in NFPA 921 that showed that crazing was always a result of rapid cooling, and could not be induced by rapid heating.

The Fire Marshal’s letter somehow manages to omit the second sentence in the paragraph from Fire Marshal Vasquez’s his report on page 4, which states, "This condition is an indication that the fire burned fast and hot." One can only conclude that the Fire Marshal was intending to deceive the Commission by not revealing this incorrect interpretation written in the report. One hopes that Texas State Fire Marshals do not still believe that crazing is a sign of rapid heating.

Presumably, Mr. Maldonado also stands by the statements of conclusions reached by Mr. Vasquez when he testified:

• That auto-ventilation is an indicator of incendiary activity;

• That wood fires do not exceed 800 degrees F;

• That the condition of the bedsprings was meaningful;

• That accelerated fires burn at a higher temperature than fires fueled with ordinary combustibles.

If the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office indeed “stands by” these erroneous conclusions, then there definitely will be (and have been) many more wrongful convictions for arson in Texas.

Rather than responding to a list of questions, I would have preferred that Mr. Maldonado respond to the original Innocence Project complaint, something that I thought was supposed to happen while Dr. Beyler was conducting his review. I hope that at some point, Mr. Maldonado is required to defend the positions taken by Mr. Vasquez while testifying, which he has so far not addressed.

I hope that there is some follow up to Mr. Maldonado’s letter. As it stands now, this appears to be just one more attempt to hide the truth.


John J. Lentini, CFI, D-ABC

Chairman, Arson Review Committee

Video of Documentary on Anthony Graves Case - Texas Death Row Probable Innocence Case

Texas Monthly has a long article in this month's edition and a 19 minute video on their website about the case of Anthony Graves. You can click here to read the article, and you can watch the video by clicking here and going to the TM website. Watch Graves' reaction when he is told in the police station that he is being charged with capital murder; he can't believe it. Graves' conviction has been overturned, but he is facing a retrial in 2011.

From TM:
"Since August 23, 1992, Anthony Graves has been behind bars for the gruesome murder of a family in Somerville. There was no clear motive, no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and the only witness against him recanted, declaring again and again before his death, in 2000, that Graves didn’t do it. If he didn’t, the truth will come out. Won’t it?"
The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board says:
For anyone with an interest in prosecutorial misconduct and capital punishment, the October issue of Texas Monthly contains required reading – a chilling account alleging deceit and abuse in pursuit of a murder conviction. The article, available today, should make even ardent supporters of the death penalty shudder to consider how an egregiously flimsy and unproven case nearly ended the life of Anthony Graves before a federal appeals court intervened and ended his 18-year residence on death row.
 Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas has this to say about the Anthony Graves case on the Grits for Breakfast blog:

The Texas Monthly Article and What It Tells Us About Our State

Ms. Colloff has written a truly excellent article that will tell you just about everything you need to know about Anthony Graves and his case. Readers of Grits should take a look at this piece. It’s well worth the price of the magazine.

I’m not going to discuss the facts of Anthony’s case much here- I want you to read the whole article. I will say that I was privileged to be part of a team of IPOT lawyers that represented Mr. Graves pro bono and that Ms. Colloff’s report is even-handed and accurate.

Anthony Graves was a nice guy who grew up in Brenham. He was well-liked and responsible. In 1992, an entire family was stabbed and bludgeoned to death in Somerville, a small town not far from Brenham. The trailer they lived in was torched. A man named Robert Carter was apprehended a few days later. The evidence against Carter was strong: he had a motive to kill the victims since they were costing him child-support money, he had gasoline burns all over himself, and he had been busy destroying evidence in the days after the murder. The problem was that by the time he got arrested the police and prosecutors had already decided that there had to be others involved in the crime. This “theory”, which was at best a hunch and had been arrived at without any forensic investigation, became their case. Like many prosecutors, police, and presidents in our history they decided to fix the facts to fit their theory- the same sort of behavior that we see over and over again in wrongful conviction cases. This meant that they had to get Carter to say that others were involved- if he didn’t, they would have had to admit their “theory” was untrue and lose face with the locals. After hours of questioning, Carter finally gave them the name of Anthony Graves.

Texas Rangers arrested Mr. Graves shortly thereafter and put him in jail for capital murder, where he has been ever since. The case against him was based on the word of Carter and virtually nothing else- read Ms. Colloff’s article and you will see what this "case" looked like.

That was fine for the State of Texas- it has certainly killed people with less evidence than that. The problem was that Carter began recanting his story and told prosecutors that he would tell the jury in Mr. Graves’s trial that Mr. Graves was innocent. That was the sort of thing that might ruin a perfectly good execution, so the state responded by sweating Carter the night before trial and threatening to make him testify against his wife. After several hours of this kind of "trial preparation", Carter agreed to tell the State’s version of what happened. He did so the next day. Prosecutors covered up what had happened with the recantations and threats- evidence vital to the defense- and got their conviction and death penalty. Mr. Graves went off to death row.

In the months that followed, Carter told anyone who would listen- which was just about nobody-that he had lied about Mr. Graves to tell the prosecutors what they wanted to hear. Carter was eventually executed. Minutes before he died, he told the world again that Mr. Graves was innocent. His last words: “It was me and me alone. Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him in court.”

Years later, as a result of the truly heroic unpaid efforts of a lawyer and St. Thomas professor named Nicole Casarez (disclaimer here: Nicole is a very close friend of mine and a co-founder of IPOT) and despite the aggressive efforts of prosecutors, all of this came out. Mr. Graves narrowly avoided being executed because the federal courts intervened.

Ms. Colloff’s article describes the extraordinary ins-and-outs of a legal process that involved many fine lawyers working for years on the case. These lawyers- Pat McCann, Roy Greenwood, Jay Burnett, Ms. Casarez and others- barely saved their client’s life. They were ablocked and challenged by prosecutors at every stage of the proceedings.

Ms. Colloff also describes how little any of the legal wrangling has meant to Mr. Graves in practical terms. Eighteen years later, he is still in jail despite his new trial. New pro bono lawyers, of which I was one, have defended him. Mr. Graves now has the stellar legal team of Katherine Scardino and Jimmy Phillips, Jr. on his side. (Disclaimer again: these are both good friends of mine and Ms. Scardino is a member of the Board of Directors of IPOT.)

Ms. Colloff tells this story very well and in a way that makes sense to the average reader. She does more than that, however: she puts it into perspective. Why did Mr. Graves get charged in the first place? Why did the State cover up the truth about Carter’s recantations? Why did the State fight so hard to execute Mr. Graves despite all of the problems it had created? Why does it still insist on trying this plainly innocent man for capital murder?
More information on the case is at the website:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Spanish TV Commercial for Coca-Cola Stars Four U.S. Death Row Exonerees

Four exonerated death-row inmates (Ray Krone, Derrick Jamison, Shujaa Graham and Ron Keine) went to Santiago, Spain to film a TV commercial featuring Coca-Cola's sports drink Aquarius. They filmed for 6 days, sometimes for 18 hrs a day for these few seconds of air time. Coca-Cola says that their message reached hundreds of millions of people in Spain, Central, and South America.

Click here to watch the 1 minute 31 second version on YouTube.

Click here to watch the 46 second version.

If you read Spanish, here is a story on the four exonerees and this commerical from El Pais.

Two of the four exonerated inmates featured in this commercial (Shujaa Graham and Ron Keine) will be attending the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin on October 30, 2010.

All four exonerees are members of Witness to Innocence.

Forensic Science Commission Meeting Sept 17 to Discuss Todd Willingham Case

Eugenia Willingham, TMN's Scott Cobb, and Patricia Cox
The Texas Forensic Science Commission is having a meeting in Dallas on Sept 17 that may be the final meeting in which they discuss and vote on a final report regarding the Todd Willingham case. The meeting is at the Embassy Suites Hotel Dallas Love Field3880 West Northwest Highway, Dallas, Texas, United States 75220 (Map and directions). The meeting starts at 9:30 AM, but is expected to last till late afternoon. The public comment period will be at the end of the meeting. Anyone can make public comments to the Commission.

Members of Texas Moratorium Network plan to attend the meeting. If you can be in Dallas on Sept 17, please plan to join us at the meeting. We have created a Facebook event page here.

You can see video of the last TFSC meeting on the TMN blog.

From the Corsicana Sun:
 A special meeting of the Texas Forensics Science Commission will take place at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 17 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Dallas near Love Field specifically to address the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, according to director Leigh Tomlin.

Last week, the city issued its final response to the case of the Corsicana man convicted of killing his three daughters in a house fire in December 1991. Willingham was tried in 1992 and died by lethal injection in 2004.

In 2005, the state created a forensics commission to oversee the professionalism of law-enforcement crime laboratories. At the request of the Innocence Project, the commission agreed to look at the Willingham case.

John Bradley, who heads up the commission, said the hope is to finish up the topic at the September meeting.

“We’re going to meet to discuss and deal with the report for the Willingham case,” Bradley said. “Obviously, the goal is to see if we can complete it and vote on it.”

Different opinions have come out about the case, primarily based on Willingham’s protestations of innocence while he was on death row. Over the years, he floated dozens of explanations for the fire, including that a stranger came into the house and set it on fire, that the two-year-old set the fire, that it was caused by a gas space heater, that squirrels in the attic chewed through the wiring and that a ceiling fan caused the fire, among others. All his explanations seemed to cast doubt on the investigators at the time and their professionalism.

The City of Corsicana had two investigators on the case, one from the fire department and one from the police department, and the Texas Fire Marshall’s office also had an independent investigator come down and look at the crime scene and issue an opinion. Their investigations eliminated other causes and Willingham was charged with setting the fire to intentionally kill the children. He was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to death.

After the state commission undertook its examination, the commission hired an independent consultant named Stephen Beyler to examine the records and issue an opinion. Beyler wrote that the fire investigators didn’t use good fire science and he speculated that it could have been other causes, based partly on Willingham’s explanations.

Last month, the forensics commission said the city did not err in the investigation according to scientific methods at the time.

In the city’s final response to the commission City Attorney Terry Jacobson said the issue is being used as a forum to advance political agendas. The Willingham case has been held up by anti-death penalty advocates as an example of misuse of the death penalty in Texas.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Mumia Is In Great Danger

Anton Reiner 04.09.2010 07:54 Themen: Repression Weltweit
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s lead attorney, Robert R. Bryan, San Francisco, was interviewed via the internet on Aug. 19, 2010, at a rally in Neukölln, Berlin, Germany, where Michael Schiffmann translated.

Robert R. Bryan gives an overview where the case stands right now.
Anton Reiner: Legally, Mumia’s options for getting a new trial on the question of whether he is guilty of murdering police officer Faulkner, seemed closed with last year’s Supreme Court decision. What are the options that are left for Mumia in the U.S. legal system?

Robert R. Bryan: We initially won on the issue of the death penalty in the U.S. Appeals Court for the 3rd Circuit; they ordered a new sentencing trial in March, 2008; then the prosecution, the government, took the case to the US Supreme Court, and in January, 2010, the Supreme Court has now sent it back to the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit with directions to reevaluate its decision. The original ruling was vacated.

On July 28, I filed on behalf of Mumia in the 3rd Circuit a new brief, strictly on the issue of the death penalty and whether he will be granted a new jury trial on the question of life or death.

However, if granted, the government will take the case again back to the Supreme Court.

If the court rules against us, then Mumia is facing execution. In that event, I will go back to the United States Supreme Court and petition for a review. However, the Supreme Court grants review in only one to two percent of all cases. So, this is a life and death situation that could not be more serious. Mumia could not be in greater danger.

The full truth has never come out in this case, and if we have an opportunity before a new jury to bring it out , I would expect the outcome would be remarkably different from what Mumia experienced in 1982 at the trial level in this case.

AR: What role does international support for Mumia play?

RRB: International support is of crucial importance, particularly in Berlin andParis. We need the voice of international concern for human rights to be heard by the courts here in the U.S. So your activism is not lost. Europe isground zero for human rights, and what you are doing there is important, not just for Mumia, but for the whole cause of human rights and abolishing the death penalty globally.

We need supporters to sign a petition that was created by Mumia and me together, and is about Mumia and the death penalty, the fight against the death penalty worldwide. Please go to , and sign it.

Also, when people march, demonstrate, and make their voices heard, we feel it eventually here in the U.S., and that is very important.

AR: What else is the legal team working on?

RRB: We are conducting a new investigation in this case. I had not said anything before about it because we did not want to be giving information to the prosecution. An enormous amount of money is needed, not only for a new investigation, but also for experts in fields such as DNA, ballistics, pathology. We’re talking about $100,000 at least, in addition to legal fees. This would open up the case entirely, not only regarding the death penalty, but also getting a totally new trial.

I have already secured the services of the best investigation firm in the United States, Public Interest Investigations in Los Angeles. The chief investigator there, Keith Rohman, who has successfully worked with me on other murder cases, met with Mumia and me a year ago, so we’ve been trying to do something about this for a year without a lot of success. We also have the best experts in various areas who are willing to help. But, even though they are willing to work for lower fees, I still have to pay them. To donate, just go to the website, .

The previous case lawyers through the years did not investigate certain crucial areas of the case, and that is tragic. What I am working on could be the key to the prison door for Mumia’s freedom. And I was not going to say anything about this because I felt that our efforts should be more private, but we need to win this case, and get Mumia out. Time is running out.

AR: In terms of Mumia’s case, what will be the next steps?

RRB: I filed on July 28 our main brief on behalf of Mumia in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The issue is the death penalty. On August 11, the government filed its response. So the government has filed an opening brief, I filed an opening brief; now, they’ve filed a response. The next step will be for the court to set oral argument, in which we would actually go into court, before a three-judge panel as we did a couple of years ago, on May 17, 2007, and argue the case.

That is where we are, and I hope this happens in the next three or four months, but I cannot speak for the court, because they decide in their own good time. Then, either we or the prosecution will go to the Supreme Court.

If this case is lost in the Supreme Court, an execution could happen pretty quickly. The procedure in Pennsylvania, unlike most other states, is that once a case is decided, an execution can occur fast. I am not talking about months, but rather weeks, it could move very fast. And the pressure to execute Mumia in this country, particularly in Philadelphia, is unlike anything I have seen in any other of hundreds of death penalty cases I have handled in the past three decades. It is unbelievable, the pressure to kill him.

AR: How does your new investigation relate to this?

RRB: If we wait until the courts decide, we are not going to have time to investigate! Mumia and I have discussed this at length. This investigation is crucial! We need help! We just need to brainstorm on how we can do this. This case can be won!

AR: Is there anything you would like to add?

RRB: I have a few things. First, there have been some great events, meetings like this. A year or so ago there was a great event on a Sunday morning at the Akademie der Künste, that had some of the top writers in Germany; the German PEN had a program at the Brechthaus the year before that was great. A lot of you were there. There was the big event in January, the Rosa Luxemburg Conference in Berlin which was fabulous – you were there! And so when I say that you in Europe at ground zero for human rights work. This is especially true in Germany - I have seen you in action. We need to have more big events like the Akademie der Künste, like the Rosa Luxemburg Conference. We need to do more to ensure that people get the message!

Secondly,the online petition campaign to President Barack Obama (Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Global Abolition of the Death Penalty), is vital to my legal effort to save Mumia. Many signatures have come out of Germany, but we need many more for this to be effective. People can sign by going to: .

Thirdly, we need financial support.

Fourthly, as I said, the voices of you the people must be heard. Continue the activism that you have been doing so effectively.

Finally, a lot of people in Germany have sent cards and letters to Mumia. I asked him a few months ago: Does that make any difference? Because, he cannot possibly answer every post card, every letter he receives, on death row. He told me that it does make a tremendous difference because he said the guards copy all his mail, they have to copy everything, and he said for him to receivebags of mail makes a statement that gets heard not only on death row but also in Philadelphia and Washington! The word goes out from guad to higher officials. So, I would like the campaign for writing him, along with the petition and other things you may do to continue – it’s very important.

On behalf of Mumia, I thank you all for caring.

Death Row Exoneree Greg Wilhoit Coming to 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Oct 30 in Austin

Greg Wilhoit is an innocent man who spent five years of his life on death row for a crime that he did not commit. He received a full exoneration in 1993. On October 30, 2010, Greg will be at the Texas Capitol for the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. The march starts at 2PM. He is coming as part of the Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing, which has proclaimed October 30, 2010 “Greg Wilhoit Day”.
The Journey of Hope is an organization led by murder victim family members joined by death row family members, family members of the executed, the exonerated, and others with stories to tell, that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty. They will be touring Texas telling their stories in cities across the state from October 15-31.
“At the sentencing,” Wilhoit said, “the judge told me I was to die by lethal injection. Then he said, ‘But if that fails, we’ll kill you by electrocution. If the power goes out, we’ll hang you. If the rope breaks, we’ll take you out back and shoot you.’”
On June 1, 1985, Greg’s wife Kathy was brutally murdered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, leaving Greg to raise two little girls 4 months and 14 months old. Almost a year later Greg was arrested and charged with Kathy’s murder because two dental “experts”, one of whom had been out of dental school less than a year, testified that a bite mark found on Kathy’s body matched Greg’s teeth.
Greg’s parents hired an attorney who had a reputation as one of the top defense attorneys in Oklahoma to represent him. Unfortunately, in the preceding years the attorney had become an alcoholic and had developed alcohol-related brain damage. He embodied the definition of an incompetent attorney and did no preparation whatsoever for Greg’s trial. He appeared in court drunk, threw up in the judge’s chambers, and literally put on no defense. Greg was consequently found guilty and sentenced to death.
Greg was assigned an attorney, Mark Barrett, from the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System to handle his appeal. Barrett was convinced of Greg’s innocence and worked tirelessly for over 4 years to help correct a terrible wrong. The 12 top forensic odontologists in the country examined the bite mark evidence and all 12 testified that the bite mark could not possibly be Greg’s. Greg was eventually granted a new trial and was out on bail for two years while the District Attorney decided whether or not to retry the case. A second trial was held in 1993, but after the prosecution presented their case (without the bite mark evidence) the judge issued a directed verdict of innocence and Greg was cleared of all charges.
Greg lost 8 years of his life, the opportunity to raise his two daughters, his livelihood, and his physical and mental health. He now lives off social security checks because he continues to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has never received an apology or one penny in compensation. In 2003, the Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly to award exonerated inmates $200,000 for their time served in prison. However, Greg has yet to receive any compensation. Greg is trying to get on with his life, but it’s not easy to get over the nightmarish trauma of those eight years.
Greg was recently featured in John Grisham’s latest book, “The Innocent Man” (Grisham’s first non-fiction book), and travels across the country active in the movement against the death penalty, speaking to numerous universities, schools and other audiences about his experience as a survivor of death row.
Greg today lives in Oklahoma. He is engaged to get married on Sept 18th to his fiancée Judy. They have known each other for 25 years.
Greg will join other innocent death row exonerees who will be attending the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, including his fellow Oklahoma exoneree Curtis McCarty, as well as Ron Keine and Shujaa Graham. Curtis spent 21 years in prison – including 19 years on death row – in Oklahoma for a crime he did not commit. Shujaa spent 3 years on death row in California for a crime he did not commit. Ron spent two years on death row in New Mexico for a crime he did not commit.
The annual march is organized by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations, including Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, Death Penalty Free Austin, and Kids Against the Death Penalty.

Charging Documents Filed with Review Panel in Sharon Keller's Appeal

The Austin American Statesman reports on the latest news in the ongoing saga of Judge Sharon Keller, who is appealing her sanction of a "Public Warning" for judicial misconduct for her actions on the day of the execution of Michael Richard, when she said "we close at 5".  You can read the latest charging documents here, filed by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with the three-judge review panel appointed by the Texas Supreme Court to hear Keller's appeal. All three judges on the review panel are Republicans, as is Keller.

From the Statesman:

The special counsel for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct this morning filed charges accusing Judge Sharon Keller of violating her duty as a judge during a botched 2007 death penalty appeal.

It’s the next step in Keller’s appeal challenging the commission’s public warning, issued in July. The warning said Keller acted improperly by choosing to close the Court of Criminal Appeals clerk’s office at 5 p.m. despite knowing that defense lawyers wanted to file an appeal in a pending execution.

The charges lay out, point by point, the commission’s version of what happened on Sept. 25, 2007, when lawyers for murderer Michael Richard requested extra time to file an appeal. The points were compiled from sworn testimony by Keller and others.

The charging document was filed with a three-judge special court of review, which now has 30 days — with a 30-day extension available — to schedule a hearing on the charges.

After the hearing, the review court has 60 days to render a decision about whether Keller was properly reprimanded by the commission, an independent agency that investigates allegations of wrongdoing by Texas judges.
Charging Document Against Judge Sharon Keller

Ohio Governor Commutes Death Sentence of Kevin Keith to Life; Texas Needs a Governor Who Will Provide Similar Leadership

The Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, today commuted the death sentence of Kevin Keith to life in prison. Keith maintains he is innocent. This is what leadership from a governor looks like. In making the decision, Strickland rejected an 8-0 recommendation from the Ohio Parole Board that Keith should be executed. Strickland also overrode the parole board in 2008, when he commuted the death sentence of another inmate who claimed innocence. In Texas, it has happened that the parole board has recommended clemency and the governor has rejected that recommendation and allowed a person to be executed. In Ohio, the opposite just happened. Texas needs to elect a governor in 2010 who will be willing to provide the kind of leadership that Governor Strickland is providing the people of Ohio. Certainly in cases where there is any doubt at all about a person's guilt or innocence, governors should take action to prevent executions of people who are possibly innocent. In states that still have a death penalty, the standard for execution should be beyond any doubt.

In 2004, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 5-1 to recommend to Governor Perry that the execution of paranoid schizophrenic Kelsey Patterson be commuted to life in prison, but Perry refused to grant the commutation and Patterson was executed. In Patterson's case the issue was mental illness.

From CNN:
An Ohio death row inmate who has repeatedly claimed his innocence was spared execution, after the state's governor Thursday noted "legitimate questions" about evidence used to convict the man.

Kevin Keith for now will spend the rest of his life in prison without parole. His legal appeals will continue, with lawyers claiming newly discovered evidence and discredited eyewitness testimony will ultimately exonerate him.

Keith was convicted of the 1994 killings of three females, including a child, in an apartment in Bucyrus, 60 miles north of Columbus. He was scheduled to die by lethal injection September 15, and had exhausted most of his federal and state court appeals. Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, issued his commutation this week after a number of civil liberties and innocence groups urged he step in to prevent a possibly innocent man from being executed by the state.

"Clearly, the careful exercise of a governor's executive clemency authority is appropriate in a case like this one, given the real and unanswered questions surrounding the murders for which Mr. Keith was convicted," said Strickland in a statement. "Mr. Keith still has appellate legal proceedings pending which, in theory, could ultimately result in his conviction being overturned altogether.

The governor added, however, that he believes "it is far more likely that Mr. Keith committed these murders than it is likely that he did not." Strickland urged the courts to give a "full, fair analysis" of the issues raised in the appeal. He ignored the recommendations of the state's parole board, which last month unanimously recommended against clemency.

Keith's lawyers applauded the governor's decision, but promised to continue the fight to clear the inmate.

"Mr. Keith remains incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, and that crime remains unsolved," said a statement from his five-person legal team. "The commutation to a life sentence does not lessen the need for justice to prevail."

Prosecutors said the 46-year-old Keith had maliciously sprayed a home with gunfire, that left a four-year-old dead, along with her mother and aunt. Three others were wounded but survived, including a man who later testified against the main suspect. At trial, the state argued one of the victims was the brother of an undercover police informant who had implicated Keith as a drug dealer.

But Keith's public defenders point to at least one other suspect, and say a detective in the case lied on the stand about how a survivor of the shooting identified Keith. His defense team also later presented alibi witnesses.

Calls to the Crawford County prosecuting attorney's office were not immediately returned.

The issue of "actual innocence" and the rights of prisoners to challenge their sentences years after a trial will be argued next month at the U.S. Supreme Court. A Texas death row inmate wants DNA testing from evidence that had not been analyzed at the time of his trial, to try to prove he did not commit the crime.

The Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic said 258 people have been exonerated through DNA testing and new evidence being uncovered, with their convictions being tossed out. Many defense attorneys have urged the courts to make it easier for inmates-- especially those facing execution-- to go to court to press for a new look at these innocence claims, including more sophisticated DNA testing of old evidence.

"It's a win-win for the justice system. If he turns out to be guilty, we have the certainty of that fact with objective DNA science prior to the time that we carry out the ultimate punishment," said Nina Morrison, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project. "And if he's not guilty, obviously that's something that we, and surely the state, would want to know prior to the time that an irrevocable penalty of execution is carried out. "