Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

April 3, 2014

Willingham pardon rejected

By Janet Jacobs

Corsicana — Cameron Todd Willingham was denied a full pardon Thursday by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Willingham was executed in 2004, convicted of killing his three toddler daughters in a house fire a few days before Christmas in 1991.

Former City Attorney Terry Jacobson filed a thick file on behalf of the City of Corsicana fire and police investigators who collected the evidence in the case.

Among his arguments were that Willingham was found guilty, and his conviction was upheld through numerous appeals that stretched out over a dozen years.

As well, Jacobson pointed out the following facts:

• While there are new developments in fire science, those still don't preclude arson;

• A fire accelerant was found inside the home in puddle or pour patterns;

All other potential ignition sources were ruled out, such as electrical, gas, appliances, and the suggestion from Willingham that somebody else broke in and set the fire;

• A witness saw Willingham saving material goods from the house as well as his car, while the house was still on fire and the children still inside.

The Innocence Project attempted to shed doubt on the conviction in 2006 by asking the Texas Forensics Sciences Commission to rule that the arson evidence wasn't valid anymore, but the Texas Attorney General took the issue out of the agency's hands in 2011 by saying it wasn't the Forensics Commission's bailiwick, since the case took place before the commission was created.

When the Forensics Commission was doing its analysis, we couldn't really talk about all the character stuff,” Jacobson said Thursday afternoon. “But with the Board of Pardons and Paroles it seemed appropriate to flesh out his past behaviors.

I'm hard-pressed to think they would have granted (the pardon),” Jacobson added. “The fire scene was consistent with arson and they found accelerant inside the house, and he confessed to his wife, for crying out loud.”

The Innocence Project issued a statement calling the pardon rejection an illustration “that the clemency system is completely broken in Texas,” and calling for Gov. Rick Perry to ask the board for a full investigation.