Death by Fire

On February 16, 2004 Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) executed an innocent man. His name was Cameron Todd Willingham and he was convicted of murder via arson for the deaths of his three young children. Perry also impeded the investigation of the incident by the Texas Forensic Science Commission when he replaced four of the nine members in an attempt to change the report showing there no evidence of arson.

In the words of GERALD HURST, Ph.D., Arson Expert:

There is not one iota of evidence that the fire was arson.

Rick Perry is a coward. He executed an innocent man to further his political ambitions.
DOUGLAS FOGG, one of the original “arson investigators”:

I don’t care how many degrees you may have, how many books you may have written, this was a set fire. We had a jury of 12 people that convicted a man who was later executed. Was Mr. Willingham innocent? In my opinion, he was guilty as the day he was born.

This is an interesting statement. This man has no idea of what fire science entails. It’s a lot more than writing books, it involves scientific experimentation using the resources of various disciplines. His contempt for science is endemic in this country. He tries to assuage his guilt by shifting the blame to the jury. In effect, he blames the jury for believing his bogus evidence.

Some may claim that Willingham received a fair trial, where “fair” is defined in some legal sense that seems to have more to do with correct procedure than with guilt or innocence. When the guilt or innocence of the defendant is not the primary concern of the legal system, then justice is illusory.

Since I can’t embed the video, you can watch the Frontline episode, here.

-David Drumm (Nal)

33 thoughts on “Death by Fire”

  1. anon nurse,

    I was referring to fellow poster Bob, Esq.

    And you don’t have to say what you’re thinking in re hunting.

    I think the exact same thing every time I think of Scalia.

  2. Buddha,

    I didn’t know that Cheney and Scalia hunt together. I won’t say what I’m thinking…

    You refer to “Bob” in your comment. Woodward? I plead ignorance. (Don’t know if you’ll ever wind your way back her, but it you do… 🙂 )

  3. Kay,

    “There was someone else’s DNA on her underwear and the prosecutor suppressed that information.”

    Wouldn’t common sense dictate that the prosecutor be charged for suppressing information?

  4. anon nurse,

    There’s a reason Bob refers to Scalia as “The Dark Lord”.

    He’s a lying evil bastard in addition to being one of Cheney’s hunting buddies.

  5. Tim Masters in Colorado was convicted of murder and could have been executed but he was exonerated and released and paid a civil settlement too. A woman was raped and murdered near his home when he was a teenager. There was someone else’s DNA on her underwear and the prosecutor suppressed that information.

  6. Personally I am adamantly against capital punishment and though I certainly dislike the man for how he represented himself as an adult and husband, he nor anyone no one should be sentenced to death based on circumstantial evidence.

  7. Anon Nurse, yours is an interesting and sad account as well. Perhaps Karma is just waiting for the right moment for the perp. As for the young man whom I believed killed his girlfriend, Karma caught up with him. He is now dead. He got in more trouble later and was caught red-handed. Money and a top notch lawyer could not get him out of that. He died in jail under less than pleasant circumstances.

    Given what I knew of his temper, sense of entitlement and lack of judgment, we could see that one coming.

  8. Interesting comments and links. Thanks.

    I’ll never understand the lengths to which some people will go to obscure the truth, even as it’s staring them in the face.

    Otteray Scribe: Thanks for sharing that story. A friend of mine was murdered many, many years ago. The man who killed her was never charged and, having seen the files, it appears that the investigation was woefully inadequate. People who should have been questioned apparently weren’t. Potential witnesses were threatened and, when left unprotected, fell silent.

    The person who murdered my friend served time (less than 3 years) for a prior violent assault/rape and after many intervening years (and the commission of other violent crimes), he found his way back to the community where he had committed murder. He became a paid informant for the police and found another paid gig as “a runner” in a college cafeteria.

  9. Herbert, Wray (2010). Heuristics Revealed: Understanding Our Sometimes Perilous Mental Shortcuts. [italics on] APS Observer 23[italics off](8), 10-13. Then get, and read, and understand in depth and detail, Wray Herbert’s recent book, “On Second Thought: Understanding Your Mind’s Hard Wired Habits,” Crown Publishing/Random House, New York, 2010.

    Methinks some folks “believe in” pre-determinism, and therefore exercise pre-judgmentalism, and never, never, never explore plausibly accurate process/procedural-learning-based attributions.

    For those who (said who includes only not-me) “believe in” some sort of inborn, inescapable “inextricably inborn stain on the whole of humanity”, guilt regarding everything a person does is guaranteed by the event of biological conception; the fertilized gamete is always more guilty than hell. And deserving of every punishment, every torment, every torture other people can impose. Or, did I miss something important, again?

    Judge not, lest ye falsely judge thyself? Oops, sorry, that might seem “religious.” Were Governor Perry’s murderous actions anything other than “religious” in nature and in action?

  10. I am bemused by the extraordinary efforts some prosecutors will go to in order to prevent discovery of the truth by DNA (and other means as well). Case in point: I was involved in a case a number of years ago in which a coed was murdered in her dormitory suite and another coed sleeping in the next room was charged and convicted of the killing. IMHO, the actual murderer was the boyfriend of the dead girl, and considerable physical evidence pointed toward him. However, he got a lawyer before he could be questioned. The surviving coed did not think she needed a lawyer and talked freely to the police, with a predictable outcome. She was charged.

    After the defendant served ten years and was released, she continued her effort to prove her innocence. After much wrangling with an obstructionistic DA, she managed to get the panties the dead girl had been wearing sent to a reputable forensic laboratory. The lab had an interesting finding: The panties had been washed, using chlorine bleach.

  11. “…In my opinion, he was guilty as the day he was born….” Doug Fogg, arson investigater.


  12. There was a cover up of the fire death of a David Engle in Steamboat Springs CO. The paper implied it was his fault for using drugs. He may have been using drugs but by law his residence was required to have two exits and his residence only had one. The fire started in front of the only exit. His neighbor tried to get him out but the only door was the one with the fire. This was covered up by the City of Steamboat because the building didn’t have an occupancy permit but was officially a one car garage even though it was a rental unit for more than 10 years during which time it changed ownership, which required inspections. The City doesn’t want to admit that its enforcement of regulations is apparently based on who you are, who you know and who you pay It was painted purple, had a little porch with a barbecue and was located only a few blocks from the building department. This was actually discussed in a publication for firefighters.

    It is quite possible in Willingham’s case that there was negligence or corruption by the local government and that they lied to cover it up.

  13. Swarthmore mom:

    After reading that article,Perry for pres,Christie for vice pres.That would be the ticket.

    I have no doubt.

  14. What about Rick Perry for president? Being blood thirsty helped Bush get elected so why not Perry. Living in this state I never believed the “compassionate conservative” line. Remember there was no difference between Gore and Bush. That’s what I was told by the Nader people. The same people will tell you to stay home and not vote now. Don’t vote Green Party in Texas as this year they have been bought off by the republicans.

  15. Another Texans indifference:

    Bush angers slain man’s family
    The Byrds harbor deep resentments over the Texas governor’s treatment of their family and failure to support a hate crimes bill.
    By Jake Tapper


    Louvon Harris was walking through her modest Houston living room last Wednesday night, not really paying much attention to the second presidential debate on TV, when she heard Vice President Al Gore mention her brother’s name.

    “I kind of stopped,” she says.

    The subject was racial profiling, but Gore had changed the subject to hate crimes.

    “James Byrd was singled out because of his race in Texas, and other Americans have been singled out because of their race or ethnicity,” Gore said, referring to the death of James Byrd Jr., who was chained to a truck and dragged three miles to his death in June 1998 at age 49. By the time his torso was ditched at one of Jasper County’s oldest black cemeteries, Byrd’s head had been severed.

  16. Nal,

    I did watch this Frontline episode and would highly recommend it. The approach taken by the producers, leading the first 20 minutes with condemning arguments against the defendant, allows the viewer to see how easily they might be swayed as members of a real jury. I thought that tactic was powerful.

    Proponents of the death penalty must accept these “collateral” executions as a price of their pursuit of vengeance. As I said in a post last year, the system is prone to abuse.

    You mentioned that Texas Governor Rick Perry was a coward for failing to stop the execution of an individual who was convicted of a crime that never happened. We elect a lot of unprincipled cowards, so this is hardly a surprise. In my view, though, this case is primarily an indictment of the Texas justice system that convicted him in the first place.

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