Texas District Court Judge Charlie Baird was planning to posthumously exonerate Cameron Todd Willingham in 2010 before the order was stopped by a higher court, the Huffington Post reports. Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for the deaths of his three young daughters in a house fire.
Throughout his incarceration, Willingham consistently maintained his innocence—even refusing a plea deal that would have spared his life—and multiple forensic experts have since come forward to debunk the scientific validity of the arson investigators who claimed that the fire had been deliberately set with liquid accelerant. That testimony, along with a jailhouse informant who claimed that Willingham had confessed to him, served as the only evidence against him.
Baird’s proposed order drew upon findings in a report filed by renowned arson expert Gerald Hurst, stating that the investigators were wrong and the fire had been set accidentally.
“You can’t do anything for Willingham except clear his name,” Baird told The Huffington Post. “When they tried Willingham, I’m convinced that everyone worked in good faith. The problem is that up until the execution, everything had changed so dramatically that you realized the science relied upon at trial was not reliable enough to take a man’s life.”
Ultimately, Baird’s proposed order never became official, as it was ruled that he did not have authority to examine the capital case. Says Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck, “It’s an awful shame that this opinion was sitting in his desk gathering dust and nobody could see it…This opinion will stand the test of time, because it faces the facts.”
The Willingham case was also reviewed by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which issued its report last year. The Commission called for an investigation into possible wrongful convictions in other arson cases statewide. Willingham’s family continues to push for a pardon that would clear his name.
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