Texas Officials Block Investigation Into Evidence Indicating the State Executed an Innocent Man in 2004


State officials in Texas are blocking a full investigation into evidence showing that Cameron Willingham was not guilty of an arson that killed his three children and for which he was executed in 2004. The Texas Forensic Science Commission, established in 2005 to evaluate the reliabiity of forensic evidence in cases like Mr. Willingham’s, has now been prevented from considering evidence in cases older than 2005, which restricts the panel’s investigation into the evidence used to convict Mr. Willingham.

Mr. Willingham was convicted of setting the fire that killed his three young daughters in 1991. Shortly before he was executed in 2004, an internationally known arson scientist reviewed the evidence in his case and concluded it was flawed. Governor Rick Perry declined to stay the execution.

In 2009, two days before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was to hear a report from another renowned fire scientist that showed Mr. Willingham was innocent, Governor Perry replaced the head of the Commission and two of its eight other members. He named as chairman Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who slowed down the Willingham investigation and raised concerns about his objectivity when he called Mr. Willingham a “guilty monster.” Governor Perry appointed Bradley to a second term as chairman, but state legislators did not confirm the appointment.

In April 2011, under the new leadership of Dr. Nizam Peerwani, the Commission released a report finding that the Willingham investigation was flawed. The report refused to decide whether the original arson investigators were negligent, instead citing fears of litigation and asking the Attorney General to decide whether the Commission is authorized to investigation cases prior to its creation in 2005.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion that the Commission cannot consider evidence gathered or tested before 2005. Former chairman John Bradley said the ruling should close the Commission’s investigation of the Willingham case, because it involved a fire that happened in 1991 — a position shared by Governor Perry’s office.

Governor Perry, who has overseen the executions of 230 people, more than any other modern governor of any state, announced earlier this week that he is running for President.