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Friday, January 11, 2013

Essay on Cameron Todd Willingham

Essay on Cameron Todd Willingham

This is a case about Cameron Todd Willingham who was proven guilty of committing arson in 1992 and died through death penalty in 2004. The Court found him guilty of setting his family’s Corsicana, Texas home which killed his two young children. Willingham was able to escape from the fire and his wife was not at home when the fire broke out. Prosecutors believed that Willingham committed arson so that his abusive acts on his children will not be revealed. 

However, this was not really proven in Court and his wife testified that Willingham was not an abusive father. However, an investigative report done by the David Grann of The New Yorker in 2004 revealed that shows that Willingham was actually innocent, and so Texas executed an innocent man (Grann, 2004). This investigative report basically supported the earlier findings of the Innocence Project wherein some of America’s best forensic experts also agree that the main evidence that made Willingham guilty of arson was invalid. It was revealed that the Texas officials did not really pay attention to this evidence that would have stopped the execution.

The main evidence that resulted to the conviction of Willingham was the outcome of the investigation of the police officers after the fire. It was discovered that the fire was caused by a type of liquid accelerant (Clarke, 2007). This evidence was supported by char patterns that can be seen on the floor and the fact that the fire spread quickly all over the house. Even if there was no obvious motive that was determined, and the wife of Willingham testified that she did not fight with her husband before the fire happened, it was the testimony from a fellow prisoner that sealed the doom of Willingham. This prisoner testified that Willingham mentioned to him that he was the one responsible for burning their house.

The evidence of liquid accelerant was controversial because it was never really proven to be the one that caused the fire. Willingham believed that the fire started because of electrical problems, and it was never established that Willingham was the one who sprayed the liquid accelerant all over the house for it to burn quickly. Aside from this, the acceptance of the testimony of a fellow prisoner was controversial because this was a confession that was not really proven to be true (Williams, 2012). It could have been possible that the prisoner simply made up a story where Willingham admitted his crime, but nonetheless this testimony was still admitted in Court and helped significantly towards the conviction of Willingham.

After the death of Willingham through capital punishment, there had always been questions regarding how reliable the evidence that was used in order to convict Willingham. This is because it was never determined that an accelerant was used to help burn the house. Gerald L. Hurst, and expert in arson cases, analyzed the case once again and he himself did not think that an accelerant was used to burn the house. In 2009 the State of Texas decided that it was necessary to conduct another examination of Willingham’s case. Dr. Craig Beyler was the person who conducted the re-examination and concluded that arson cannot be proven to have been really done by Willingham (Pollock, 2011). Many other fire experts also supported the conclusions of Dr. Craig Beyler and believed that the prosecutors did not really establish their arguments in solid and reliable facts. Even the Texas Forensic Science Commission has already admitted that because Willingham’s guilt in terms of committing arson could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt, it could be possible that the state of Texas may have executed an innocent person in 2004.

Clarke, A. (2007). The Bitter Fruit of American Justice. Philadelphia, PA: UPNE
Grann, D. (2004). “Trial by Fire.” Retrieved January 11, 2013 at
Pollock, J. (2011). Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning
Williams, K. (2012). Most Deserving Death? New York, NY: Ashgate Publishing

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