Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

October 15, 2009

Affidavits dispute claims of innocence

Willingham said to have confessed to wife for 1991 fire

By Janet Jacobs

Two affidavits have been released by the City of Corsicana that seem to dispute the declarations in the national media that Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent when he was executed in 2004 for murdering his three daughters.

The first is from Ronnie Kuykendall, brother of Stacy Kuykendall, who gave a statement to Kirby Hill regarding one of Willingham’s last visits with his ex-wife. Kuykendall said that on Feb. 8, 2004, a week before Willingham was to be executed, that Willingham’s ex-wife, Stacy called her family together to tell them about her last visit with her ex-husband.

“Stacy asked all of us to come into the living room, at this time she started crying and told us about her visit with Willingham,” Kuykendall said in the affidavit. “She stated that after visiting with him for about one hour and 45 minutes he told her that he had set the fire because he knew that she was going to leave him in January (1992) like she had said and that she was going to divorce him and he figured if he did this she would stay with him and she could get her tubes untied and that they could start another family and that he wanted her to write the board a letter because he did not want to die.”

Stacy Kuykendall has refused to talk to the media since her ex-husband’s execution. However, she spoke to Daily Sun reporter Loyd Cook in 2004, shortly before Willingham’s death.

At the time she said she was convinced Todd Willingham did kill their children.

Kuykendall wanted it part of the record, said Justice of the Peace Kirby Hill, who was at that time an investigator with the District Attorney’s office.

“It was right after (the family) had the meeting,” Hill recalled. “I think he just thought it was something there needed to be a record of,” Hill said. “I don’t know if there was ever any other admission by (Willingham), and I think (Kuykendall) thought it was best that it be brought forward.”

The second affidavit is from a neighbor who gave a statement earlier this month about what he witnessed more than 18 years ago on that morning a few days before Christmas in 1991.

Tony Ayala gave a statement to a Corsicana Police Detective Seth Fuller on Oct. 6, 2009. In his statement, he said he saw Willingham packing his car and moving it out of the carport that morning, while smoke was coming out of the house.

Ayala told Fuller that he tried to tell police in 1991 what he saw, but he was rebuffed. Why he waited 18 years to make a statement is a little more murky.

“He just said he’d been seeing stuff about it, and he just couldn’t not come forward,” Fuller said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry called Willingham a “monster,” and said the investigation came to right conclusion when it found him guilty of killing his daughters.

Former neighbor Diane Barbee agrees with Perry. She gave statements to police that week in 1991, and has continued to say she believes in Willingham’s guilt because of his behavior that day and beforehand.

“I think he was the devil,” Barbee said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he set that fire. He was a horrible person.”

From the time the young family moved onto the street, the neighbors couldn’t help but witness the violence in the home, Barbee said.

“It was him beating her all the time, and hollering and screaming. It was pitiful,” Barbee said.

On that day, Barbee was home babysitting when one of the older children came to tell her about smoke coming from the house nearby. She ran outside and it was then that Willingham, who was on the porch, started screaming that his children were inside, not before, Barbee said.

“It was nothing but black smoke coming out at that time,” she said. “He never tried to go back in that house, never once.”

After Willingham had gone to the hospital for treatment of some minor burns, and after his two-year-old had died, he returned to the house to retrieve some of his personal items. He asked Barbee’s 16-year-old daughter to go get him something to eat from the Jack-in-the-Box.

“Could you eat an hour and a half after your babies had burned up?” Barbee asked.

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