Innocence Project of Texas to Review Arson Cases


More than 20 years after Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three young daughters, and a decade after his execution, Texas is still trying to get a handle on arson convictions. The Innocence Project of Texas has received 24 cases from the state fire marshal’s office to review for possible wrongful convictions similar to Willingham’s.


The Associated Press reported that Fire Marshal Chris Connealy, who sent cases between 2002 and 2004, plans to share all of his office’s cases up until this year.


According to the Associated Press, Connealy said in a recent interview, “Why not? We serve the public. And I want the public to have confidence in the criminal justice system.”


Willingham always claimed his innocence, and the arson investigation used to convict him was questioned by leading experts before Willingham was executed. Since his 2004 execution, further evidence in the case has led to the inescapable conclusion that Willingham did not set the fire for which he was executed. And just this week, the Washington Post reported on new evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in the case. While the case presses on, Connealy and the Innocence Project of Texas are hoping to weed out problems with fire investigations overall.


Connealy created a panel of fire experts to review cases brought by the group who then send its findings to the prosecutors of those cases.


The Associated Press reports:

Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, said the fire marshal’s office and advocates have the same goal of seeking justice.


“As long as we trust each other and work together, I don’t think there’s any issue there,” Vilbas told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “We both have a common goal of seeing that justice is done for those who have been convicted on the basis of outdated arson science.”

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