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Innocence
The death penalty puts innocent people at risk of execution.
Todd Willingham
Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed under Governor Rick Perry on February 17, 2004.

According to the Dallas Morning News, a retrial has resulted in life in prison for John Adams, a person formerly on Texas death row. The co-defendant in the case, Gregory Wright, was executed in 2008. Wright professed his innocence until his death, he said in his last words that it was John Adams who actually killed the victim. Now, Adams has been removed from death row and given life. But did Texas execute someone who did not kill anyone, namely Greg Wright? You can read more about the case at www.freegregwright.com.

Here are Greg Wright’s last words:

Yes I do. There has been a lot of confusion on who done this. I know you all want closure. Donna had her Christianity in tact when she died. She never went to a drug house. John Adams lied. He went to the police and told them a story. He made deals and sold stuff to keep from going to prison. I left the house, and I left him there. My only act or involvement was not telling on him. John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street. I was a truck driver; my CDL was still active. Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there were anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adam. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal. When we got to the house he was jonesin for drugs. He has to go to Dallas. I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the T.V. was up too loud. I ran in to the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in her heart, and that’s what killed her. I told John Adams, “turn yourself in or hit the high road.” I owed him a favor because he pulled someone off my back. I was in a fight downtown. Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my famly. I’ll be waiting on ya’ll. I’m finished talking.

From the DMN:

The state of Texas will not execute John Wade Adams for the 1997 murder of Donna Vick. He will serve a life sentence instead.

In a rare Sunday court session, District Judge Gracie Lewis discharged the jury that had been deliberating Adams’ penalty. She ruled that the Dallas County jury was not able to make the life-or-death decision after 27 hours of deliberation over three days.

“Our prayers were answered,” said Bobbie Adams Satterlee, one of a dozen family and friends who came from Louisiana and Alabama for the retrial of the penalty phase.

Adams’ guilt was not at issue. He had been tried for stabbing Vick to death and found guilty of capital murder 12 years ago. The only question was whether his death penalty should stand or be reduced to life in prison.

Defense attorneys argued his punishment should be life in prison because the original trial jury did not hear evidence about Adams’ abusive childhood, evidence that family members presented in a retrial that spanned the last two weeks.

Gregory Wright was also convicted of the Vick murder and was executed in 2008.

To watch Greg Wright’s wife Connie speaking at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in 2009 click here. She starts speaking around the 2 minute 30 second mark.

President Lyndon Johnson, speaking about the Vietnam War, once remarked to an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.” Paul Burka, who writes for Texas Monthly, may be no Walter Cronkite (and who is these days?), but his take on the Todd Willingham case in his column on July 27 is an indication that more and more middle of the road Texans are coming around to the realization that Texas executed an innocent person.

From the BurkaBlog:

The integrity of the Texas Forensic Science Commission has been compromised ever since Rick Perry reorganized the commission, installed his longtime politically ally, Williamson County D.A. John Bradley, as chairman, and replaced other members of the commission investigating the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Willingham’s three children died in a fire that investigators said was deliberately set, and he was subsequently sentenced to death and executed. Experts who have studied the case have since concluded that arson investigators used flawed science in determining that the fire was an act of arson.

Predictably, the commission appears to be headed toward a whitewash that will absolve the arson investigators because [according to a report in the Dallas Morning News] they used outmoded standards that were common at the time in Texas….”

Let’s be very clear about what this means. If the evidence on which the conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham was based was fundamentally flawed, then the State of Texas executed an innocent man. It means that an agency of the State of Texas is going to whitewash the killing to protect Rick Perry. And it means that John Bradley and the Forensic Science Commission believe that it is just too bad if improperly trained law enforcement officers present flawed evidence to obtain a conviction in a capital murder case.

We know the truth: The evidence was flawed. If the evidence was flawed, then so was Willingham’s conviction. We can only hope that when this sad episode is over, Perry will make a public statement of regret and clear Willingham’s name with a posthumous pardon. Don’t hold your breath.

Below are videos shot by Texas Moratorium Network of the entire discussion on the agenda item dealing with the Todd Willingham case at the Texas Forensic Science Commission on Friday, July 23, 2010 in Houston. The discussion lasted more than an hour. It is divided into seven parts because YouTube limits videos to ten minutes. There are also two shorter videos of Barry Scheck and Patricia Willingham Cox delivering their public comments at the end of the meeting.

October 30, 2010 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol
Austin Texas

Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010 Part 1/7

Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010 Part 2/7

Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010 Part 3/7

Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010, Part 4/7

Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010, Part 5/7

Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010, Part 6/7

Texas Forensic Science Commission Discussion of Todd Willingham Case July 23, 2010, Part 7/7

The videos below are of comments delivered during the public comment period, which took place a couple of hours after the main discussion of the Willingham case by the Commission.

Barry Scheck Speaking to Texas Forensic Science Commission July 23, 2010

Todd Willingham’s Cousin and Stepmother at Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting July 23, 2010

Below is a video of The Innocence Project’s Barry Scheck speaking to Texas Forensic Science Commission in Houston on July 23, 2010. Video was shot by Texas Moratorium Network.

Watch the whole video to understand Barry Scheck’s objections to the Commission’s tentative findings. Click here to watch the video on YouTube or click here to watch it on TMN’s Facebook page.

The final report is not yet complete, so the Commission could still take into account Scheck’s objections.

Around the 3:35 minute is when the fireworks start after John Bradley motions to his assistant that she should tell Scheck that his time is up.

http://camerontoddwillingham.com

From the Houston Chronicle:

A commission reviewing a disputed arson finding that led to a Corsicana man’s 2004 execution for the deaths of his three young children said in a preliminary report Friday that the fire investigators used flawed science but didn’t commit negligence or misconduct.

Members of the state commission investigating a controversial Corsicana arson case in which three children died — and for which their father was executed — acknowledged on Friday that state and local arson investigators used “flawed science” in determining the blaze had been deliberately set.

But the Texas Forensic Science Commission panel heading the inquiry also found insufficient evidence to prove that state Deputy Fire Marshal Manuel Vasquez and Corsicana Assistant Fire Chief Douglas Fogg were negligent or guilty of misconduct in their arson work.
The investigators, they said, likely used standards accepted in Texas at the time of the fire, which erupted at the home of Cameron Todd Willingham in December 1991. Willingham went to his execution in 2004 proclaiming his innocence in the deaths of his 1-year-old twins and 2-year-old step daughter.
The tentative findings were announced at the commission’s quarterly meeting in Houston.

Commissioners authorized the four-member committee to write a draft report reflecting their findings to be acted on later this summer. The panel, headed by commission Chairman John Bradley, also will solicit more information regarding the state of investigation standards in 1991. It will accept written public comments until Aug. 12.

Friday’s action was the latest chapter in the contentious review of the arson investigators’ work spurred by a complaint filed by the New York-based Innocence Project. The commission is not tasked with determining whether Texas might have executed an innocent man, but whether the arson investigators followed sound scientific principles.
Other reviews critical

At least three expert reviews, including a commission-financed study by Baltimore fire expert Craig Beyler, have been critical of the arson investigations. Burn patterns, multiple points of origin and other phenomenon investigators found at the scene wrongly were interpreted as signs the fire deliberately was set, the experts concluded.

Beyler, who wrote that investigators observed neither the standards of the National Fire Prevention Association, adopted shortly after the blaze, nor standards applicable at the time of the fire, was scheduled to appear before commissioners last September.

Days before the meeting, however, Gov. Rick Perry replaced the commission chairman with Bradley, district attorney in Williamson County. The session at which Beyler was scheduled to speak was canceled, and the fire expert never appeared before the body.
Friday’s action spurred a heated exchange between Bradley and Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck, who bolted from his seat to protest. Bradley repeatedly refused to yield the floor.

Family optimistic

Scheck’s organization argues that the state fire marshal’s office should have been aware of updated arson investigation standards and – in any event – should have advised prosecutors and the court of them when they were adopted.

The new standards went into effect in early 1992.
“It’s alarming that they’ve missed the point of our allegations,” Innocence Project policy director Stephen Saloom said. “The state fire marshal’s office had a continuing duty to inform prosecutors, the court, pardons and paroles or the governor of the unreliability of the old evidence.”

While national fire experts may have known in late 1991 that new standards were in the works, investigation committee members said, it’s possible rank-and-file investigators did not.

Willingham’s mother, Eugenia Willingham, and his cousin, Patricia Cox, who were present for Friday’s session, viewed the commission’s action as a positive development.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Cox said. “We’re Todd’s voice after death. We’re going to exonerate him. We’re not going away.”

Eugenia Willingham said her son would have been pleased. “His wish was that we clear his name,” she said. “He was innocent and prosecuted for something he didn’t do. … I hope that somewhere or other he saw what happened today.”

Texas Moratorium Network shot this video of Todd Willingham’s cousin Patricia Willingham Cox speaking at the meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in Houston on July 23, 2010. Click here to watch the video on YouTube. Or click here to watch it on the TMN Facebook page.

Todd’s stepmother Eugenia Willingham is sitting beside Patricia while she speaks. Normally, when a family member speaks at a hearing, for instance at a committee hearing at the Legislature, the person chairing the hearing is very nice and thanks the person for coming and maybe even offers some words of comfort to them if they start crying. The chair often even says something like they know how difficult it is to speak in public at a hearing like this. We have seen that happen a lot at the Legislature, but John Bradley has absolutely no social skills or empathy, so he didn’t say anything after Patricia Cox spoke or after Eugenia is asked if she wants to speak, but she declines because she is weeping. What an ass John Bradley is.

A commission reviewing a disputed arson finding that led to a Corsicana man’s 2004 execution for the deaths of his three young children said in a preliminary report Friday that the fire investigators used flawed science but didn’t commit negligence or misconduct.

Patricia Cox, Todd Willingham’s cousin, told commission members that she appreciated the group’s acknowledgment that the forensic evidence used to convict her loved one was flawed.

“Even though there may not have been any malice or intent by fire investigators about not being informed on current standards, that doesn’t excuse the fact that, based on this misinformation, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed, and that can’t be corrected,” said a tearful Cox.

Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, was too upset to speak during the meeting’s public comment section. But during a break, she said she couldn’t believe the panel’s conclusion and vowed to continue fighting for her stepson’s exoneration.

Both Cox and Eugenia Willingham came from their hometown of Ardmore, Okla., to attend the meeting. Two other women at the meeting held signs with photographs of Willingham that read: “No More Cover Up! Todd: Innocent and Executed!” and “Put Todd Willingham on the Agenda.”

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