Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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October 3, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: City report on arson probe

State panel asks for city response in Willingham case

The City of Corsicana is calling foul in the latest review of the Cameron Todd Willingham case by Craig Beyler.

Although Willingham was found guilty of the 1991 murder of his three toddler daughters and executed in 2004, the case has been picked up by the Innocence Project as an example of misuse of the death penalty. At the Project’s request, the Texas Forensic Science Commission hired Beyler to reexamine the case for any mistakes that might have been made in the original investigation. Beyler wrote a scathing account of the work done 17 years ago, focusing on the trial testimony and where he claims the investigators ignored scientific method in favor of outdated wives’ tales about fire.

On Friday, the City released its response to the report, suggesting Beyler is an advocate for Willingham, and accusing him of misrepresenting the facts.

“It appears as if Dr. Beyler grossly misinterpreted some of the testimony to make some points,” said Terry Jacobson, Corsicana city attorney. “There’s evidence for a jury to have found (Willingham) guilty of murdering his kids.”

On Friday the Texas Forensic Science Commission was scheduled to question Beyler about his report, but some last-minute appointments by Gov. Rick Perry forced the cancellation of the meeting.

Prior to the new appointments, the commissioners asked Corsicana Fire Chief Donald McMullan to examine Beyler’s report and make an official response.

This is not the work of an independent, objective person, the response states.

“Given some of Dr. Beyler’s distortions of the trial record, as described below, it may be that he has assumed the role of an advocate,” the response states.

Among the many points in the city’s 21-page response:

• Beyler overlooked Willingham’s inconsistencies. According to witness statements, Willingham said that he fled out the back door; that he searched the house for the children before fleeing out the front door; that he kicked down the front door (he told some people he kicked it down from inside, others that he kicked it down from outside); that he was awakened by his daughter Amber coming into his room; that Amber’s screams woke him from another room; that he told Amber to get out of the house; that he tried to grab Amber but she evaded him and fled; that he crouched below the smoke to go into the children’s rooms to search for them; that he stepped over the baby gate in their doorway, both coming and going; that he tried to reenter the house after escaping, and that he didn’t try to reenter the house because of the fury of the fire. In all, the city points out 27 discrepancies in the Willingham stories to various witnesses and the investigators.

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