New findings cast doubt on Ardmore man's guilt

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From: Britta Slopianka 
To: gojust ; inmateactivists2004 ; ips ; Lisbeth ; Pam 
Cc: abolitionmovement ; Kati´s Group ; Lamp of hope ; Patrick ; Wanda´s Group 
Sent: Sunday, December 12, 2004 10:56 AM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] New findings cast doubt on Ardmore man's guilt

 New findings cast doubt on Ardmore man's guilt

By Marsha Miller
News Editor

December 12, 2004

"I'm angry at Texas but I want the people in Oklahoma to know he (Todd Willingham) wasn't the monster they said he was," Gene Willingham said Friday as he talked about new information released Thursday that could indicate his son was innocent.

"It can't help him now -- he's gone. But it may help others. It's already helped one man. It may make the courts take a little more time in what they're doing," Willingham said.

Todd Willingham was convicted in 1992 of capital murder and sentenced to death. The case surrounded the 1991 fire that destroyed his Corsicana, Texas, home just two days before Christmas and claimed the lives of his three children. Willingham maintained his
innocence from the time of his arrest to his last words before he died from lethal injection on Feb. 17.

"They (prosecutors) offered him life (before the case went to trial) if he would confess. He wouldn't do it. Then they (defense attorneys) tried to get my wife and I to convince him to confess. I said I wasn't going to do that. They said then you'll see your son dead in 10 years or so," Willingham said. "He told them he was innocent right up to the end. It was a raw deal all the way around."

The Tribune's investigation challenged the accuracy of evidence presented by arson investigators at Willingham's trial and the conclusions drawn from that evidence. Four fire experts who reviewed the case called the evidence flawed and not scientific by
today's standards. The experts even say it's possible the fire that killed Willingham's children may have been accidental.

Kendall Ryland, a former fire instructor for Louisiana State University and chief of the Effie Fire Department, examined the facts and told the Tribune the fact that Willingham had been convicted and executed based on the flawed evidence "made me sick."

Ryland said, "They executed this guy and they've just got no idea -- at least scientifically -- if he set the fire, or if the fire was even intentionally set."

One of the other experts who reviewed evidence, trial testimony and videotape of the fire scene last month was Gerald Hurst. It was the second time Hurst had examined the case and the second time he found the state's evidence lacking. Hurst had attempted to help
Willingham gain a stay of execution earlier this year, presenting a report of his findings to Gov. Rick Perry, who rejected the noted fire scientist's conclusions that he found no evidence of arson.

Even one of the Texas deputy fire marshal's who originally assisted in the investigation of the fire admits the current conclusions about the case have validity.

"At the time of the Corsicana fire, we were still testifying to things that aren't accurate today," Edward Cheever told the Tribune. "They were true then, but they aren't now."

Willingham's father says the Tribune's investigation won't bring his son back, but he feels it does vindicate him.

He recalled the final hours of his son's life, saying Willingham was accepting of his fate.

"He knew it was too late," the father said. "He was more worried about me, I have cancer, than he was about himself. I told him I would be all right and he said, 'I'm going.'"

The father mourned the fact that even minutes before his son's execution he was not allowed to touch him.

Marsha Miller 221-6529

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I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer~
Britta Slopianka
Florida Coordinator
Innocent In Prison Project

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