By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
One of the relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham filed a petition Wednesday in Austin that Willingham be given a posthumous pardon by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Willingham was the Corsicana man convicted and executed for killing his three small children in a house fire in 1991. Since his execution he has become a poster-child for the Innocence Project, which wants to do away with the death penalty in Texas. The New York-based group claims the evidence doesn’t support Willingham’s conviction.
Corsicana fire and police detectives who investigated the death of the three little girls have repeatedly defended their handling of the case — and the 1992 conviction. Willingham was executed in 2004, after a dozen years of appeals.
Filing the petition is just the beginning of the process, according to Harry Battson, spokesman for the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
“We received the application today,” Battson confirmed, adding that it won’t be an overnight decision. “Our clemency people tell us the average is months, not weeks. We’re looking at a period of time before it comes to a vote.”
Before that, the investigators, and the children’s mother will all be asked to file a statement on whether or not Willingham’s name should be cleared.
“They will have an opportunity and time period to input their thoughts on the application,” Battson explained. After all the statements are compiled, then the file will be submitted to each of the board members one at a time.
“They don’t actually vote at a meeting,” Battson said. “They sequentially review the file. Each member reviews it then casts a vote, then it goes to the next board member.”
If a majority of the seven board members vote in favor of granting the posthumous pardon then it will be sent to the governor’s office. The governor doesn’t have to grant the pardon, regardless of how the board votes.
“The board makes a recommendation to the governor,” Battson said.
Prior to Willingham’s execution by lethal injection in 2004, his supporters asked Gov. Rick Perry for a stay which would have delayed the execution but it was refused. In 2009, when an arson expert who disagreed with the arson findings in the case was supposed to testify before the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the governor changed the make-up of the commission, putting a stop to the expert’s testimony. When Perry made his recent run to be the Republican nominee for president, Willingham’s case became nationally famous as an example of Perry’s conservatism.
In filing the petition, Willingham’s cousin and stepmother said it would have been Willingham’s wish to have his named cleared.
“It was Todd’s last wish that we help to clear his name. We owe that to Todd and to all the other people who might have been convicted based on the same faulty evidence,” said Eugenia Willingham, Willingham’s stepmother.
Patricia Willingham Cox, Willingham’s cousin added, “We weren’t able to save Todd’s life, but thanks to the help of many of the nation’s renowned arson experts who reviewed the evidence in his case, we now know that Todd was wrongly convicted. It’s time for the state to own up to its mistake and give Todd the justice he deserves.”
A copy of the petition can be viewed on the Innocence Project’s website at www.innocenceproject.org/willingham.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com