Time to Change the Clemency Process in Texas


In an op-ed in today’s

Houston Chronicle

, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Texas exoneree Michael Morton called for changes to the state’s clemency process in the wake of new evidence pointing to foul play during and after Cameron Todd Willingham’s trial. Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death for killing his three young children in a house fire in 1991, but the Texas Forensic Science Commission has since recognized that the arson science used to convict him was outdated.


Scheck and Morton write:

… [T]he clemency process that failed to discover Willingham’s innocence in 2004 remains essentially unchanged. A recent study by a committee of the American Bar Association found that the Board of Pardons and Paroles’ consideration of capital cases is woefully inadequate — Texas does not meet any of the 11 minimum guidelines for an adequate process. This is a gaping hole in the safety net against wrongful execution.


Although reasonable people can debate the effectiveness of the death penalty or whether it is morally appropriate, no one can endorse a system that allows the execution of an innocent person. And we need to do everything in our power to make sure that the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the last stop in our criminal justice system, has the resources and the procedures necessary to do its job.

Scheck and Morton are calling for a public investigation into Willingham’s case and an evaluation of all board procedures to ensure that justice is upheld and so that the state can learn from its mistakes. “There are only two mistakes one can make on the road to truth: not going all the way, and not starting,” write Scheck and Morton. “Let’s go all the way to ensure that Texas never again executes an innocent person.”


Read the full op-ed


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