Marshall Project Exposes New Allegations of Misconduct by Willingham Prosecutor
Earlier this year, the
published a story which discussed new evidence exposing that a jailhouse informant secretly received a deal from the then-Navarro County District Attorney—John Jackson—in exchange for his testimony against Innocence Project client Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004. In an article released yesterday, the
revealed that the Willingham case was not the first time that Jackson gave an informant incentive to provide false testimony that would help send a man to death row.
In 1997, Ernest Baldree was executed in Texas. More than a decade prior, he had been convicted of burglarizing and murdering a married couple. At trial, Jackson, the prosecutor on the case, presented testimony by a man named Kyle Barnett, a jailhouse informant. In his testimony, he told the jury that Baldree had confessed to him that he’d shot the couple. While his testimony was, in fact, the truth, it was not what Jackson had told him to say.
reports that Barnett said later that prior to the trial, Jackson and the district attorney told him he needed to testify against Baldree because they needed more witnesses. In exchange for his testimony, they would send him to a Fort Worth drug rehabilitation center, as opposed to prison, for a recent parole violation. If he didn’t testify, he’d be sent back to prison for “a long time,” Barnett explained to the Marshall Project.” He was explicitly told not to tell anyone about the deal he was receiving in exchange for his testimony.
Barnett was instructed to give specific details in his testimony, details that stood in complete contradiction to what Baldree had actually told him about his involvement in the murders. When Barnett relayed to the prosecution that Baldree had expressed remorse over his actions, they told him that, “they didn’t want to hear about it, and didn’t want me to testify about it,” Barnett told the
. Ultimately, according to the article, Baldree, while guilty, was portrayed as being a “cold-blooded” killer, which likely contributed to him being sentenced to death.
Because Barnett did not say what he’d been instructed to say on the stand, after the trial was over, he was not allowed to go free as had been promised by Jackson and his team; Barnett was sent to prison.
In 1991, Barnett signed a sworn affidavit for attorneys who were working on an appeal to challenge Baldree’s conviction and sentence. In the affidavit, Barnett explained how he’d been forced to testify.
Jackson has since said in his own sworn affidavit that he “never had any contact or conversation” with Barnett. The affidavit was in response to a grievance filed by the Innocence Project with the Bar of Texas over his conduct in the Willingham case, which went to trial in 1992. The bar association filed a grievance against Jackson and he will face a public trial on the misconduct allegations in the coming months.
Read the entire article
about Jackson’s role in Cameron Todd Willingham’s case.
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