Friday, February 28, 2014

They Didn't Just Kill an Innocent Guy; They Also Lied about It

Let's recap.

Cameron Todd Willingham was sentenced to death and then executed by the good people of the Great State of Texas (as they sometimes call it) for setting his house on fire and burning up his kids.  

In fact, there's no credible evidence that the fire was arson.  Every competent investigator, everyone who's studied fire, every one of them agrees.  The fire team that said it was arson based their conclusion on tradition and guess work and what one of the scientists called "old wives tales."  Before he signed off on the execution, Rick Perry was given a report telling him just that.  Did he read it?  Damned if I know.  But Perry said Willingham was a "monster."  Enough reason, that, to kill him even if he was factually innocent.  I mean, really, a monster.

OK, so there's no real evidence that Willingham did it and lots of evidence indicating that he didn't, that the fire was an accident.  

And then there was the investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission which Perry managed to disrupt and that then said,
Yeah, problems, but we're not going there.
And, well, it kinda just sat.

Except that it's kinda like that loose thread that once you start pulling it the whole sweater unravels. 

See, along with the junk science arson evidence, the other thing that got Willingham convicted was a jailhouse snitch, a guy named Johnny Webb.  Webb told the jury that Willingham confessed to him. Well, sure.  Of course he did.  Criminals do that all the time.  And public spirited guys who are in the next cell run to the police and, because they are noble and decent and want to see bad guys pay rat the confessor out.  And then to the jury.  Which eats that shit up.  

And as the prosecutors said, even if the arson investigation was just completely fucked up, the guy freely confessed to Webb, who of the goodness of his heart . . . . Which is more than enough evidence to convict and kill. 

Oh, sure, Webb's tried to recant.  And there's the fact that it wasn't arson, so the confession's pretty clearly bogus.  But still.

John Schwartz reports in the Times.
In recent weeks, as part of an effort to obtain a posthumous exoneration from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry, lawyers working on Mr. Willingham’s behalf say they have found evidence that Mr. Webb gave his testimony in return for a reduced prison sentence. 
Ooops.  What's that?  A deal?  You mean it wasn't just 'cause Webb's public spirited?  He was bought and paid for?  Damn.  Shit.
Evidence of an undisclosed deal could have proved exculpatory during Mr. Willingham’s trial or figured in subsequent appeals, but Mr. Webb and the prosecutor at trial, John Jackson — who would later become a judge — explicitly denied that any deal existed during Mr. Webb’s testimony.
. . .
[Because] recantations in criminal cases are relatively common, . . . the biggest open question has been whether Judge Jackson and Mr. Webb had made a deal. Judge Jackson, who has retired from the bench, continued to insist there was no deal, even in an interview last year.
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
What has changed is that investigators for the Innocence Project have discovered a curt handwritten note in Mr. Webb’s file in the district attorney’s office in Corsicana. The current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, made the files available to the Innocence Project lawyers, and in late November one of the lawyers, Bryce Benjet, received a box of photocopies.
As he worked through the stack of papers, he saw a note scrawled on the inside of the district attorney’s file folder stating that Mr. Webb’s charges were to be listed as robbery in the second degree, not the heavier first-degree robbery charge he had originally been convicted on, “based on coop in Willingham.”

In truth, there's nothing much surprising in this.  The snitches who testify that the bad guy in the next cell, a guy he's never met before, just opened up and described the horrific things he's done and that the government is trying to prove  - well, they're pretty much always bought and paid for.  They'll generally make up any bullshit the state wants to hear.  For a price.

And the prosecutors know that if they just lie about there having been a deal, the testimony is more credible.  So lie they will.  Not always, but often enough.  And we see through it.  And the jury, which hasn't spent much time in the trenches, thinks the emperor is wearing the finest raiments.

And then, one day, sometimes.  

Barry Scheck called it a "smoking pistol."

Or maybe it's the chickens coming home to roost.  And shitting all over former judge Jackson.  And his case.

The hope, of course, is that this will be the final piece leading to a formal exoneration and admission that they killed an innocent man.
Mr. Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, said: “I’m real thrilled that all this has come to light. We’ll see what happens. I can’t help but be hopeful.”
His cousin Patricia Cox said that if an exoneration does occur, the family has no plans to press for damages. “We’re not asking compensation,” she said. “We’re asking justice.”
I still don't know just what justice is, but I know what she's asking for.  And I'm on her side.

No comments:

Post a Comment