According to an article published late Monday by the Marshall Project, evidence has emerged that casts further doubt upon Cameron Todd Willingham’s guilt in the 1991 deaths of his three daughters, for which he was executed in 2004.
A letter has surfaced from Johnny E. Webb, the jailhouse informant who testified in the trial, to the lead prosecutor in the case, reminding him to comply with his promise to reduce the sentence in Webb’s own criminal case in exchange for his testimony. The letter, which was never placed in Webb’s public case file or the district attorney’s internal file on the case, was turned over to the Innocence Project in response to a disclosure request.
In a recent series of interviews, Webb told the Marshall Project that he faced a life sentence for a robbery charge due to prior convictions and that the prosecutor, John H. Jackson, promised to reduce his sentence if he testified that Willingham confessed as they both awaited trial at Navarro County Jail to deliberately setting the fire that killed his children.
“I lied on the man because I was being forced by John Jackson to do so,” Webb said, according to the Marshall Project. “I succumbed to pressure when I shouldn’t have. In the end, I was told, ‘You’re either going to get a life sentence or you’re going to testify.’ He coerced me to do it,” Webb said in the interview.
Documents unearthed last year by the Marshall Project and
show that Webb also received thousands of dollars from a local businessman, Charles S. Pearce Jr. Webb said in interviews that Pearce paid him at the behest of Jackson, the district attorney and the county sheriff. Jackson has denied this and said that any monetary support given to Webb by Pearce was unrelated to the testimony.
In response to a formal complaint of prosecutorial misconduct filed last summer, Jackson is now under investigation by the State Bar of Texas. He faces sanctions or even criminal charges for falsifying official records, withholding evidence and obstructing justice.
Webb told the Marshall Project he regrets his decision to testify against Willingham and wishes he instead had taken the life sentence. Had he done so, he said, he would have likely been paroled after 20 years.
“As it is,” Webb said, “I’m stuck in this Willingham thing for the rest of my life.”
Read the full Marshall Project article