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Cameron Todd Willingham: Wrongfully Convicted and Executed in Texas

October 15, 2010

From The Innocence Project

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters 13 years earlier. He always claimed his innocence, and the arson investigation used to convict him was questioned by leading experts before Willingham was executed. Since 2004, further evidence in the case has led to the inescapable conclusion that Willingham did not set the fire for which he was executed.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission is currently investigating whether professional negligence or misconduct played a role in the forensic evidence that led to Willingham’s conviction.

Read more on the case below, along with news coverage and key documents.

• Media Coverage

• Texas Forensic Science Commission — History and Key Documents

• Myths and Facts About the Willingham Case

• The New Yorker: “Trial By Fire”

• Complete Trial Transcript

Case Summary

On Christmas Eve 1991, a fire destroyed the Corsicana, Texas, home Cameron Todd Willingham shared with his wife and three daughters, killing the three girls. Willingham, who was asleep when the first started, survived. His wife was at the Salvation Army buying Christmas presents for the girls.

Willingham’s conviction was based on erroneous forensic analysis … Willingham was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville on February 17, 2004.

At Willingham’s 1992 trial, prosecutors claimed he intentionally set fire to his home in order to kill his own children. Willingham said he was asleep in the home when the fire started and always maintained his innocence. He was convicted based on the testimony of forensic experts who said they had determined that the fire was intentionally set and a jailhouse informant who said Willingham had confessed to him. On October 29, 1992, he was sentenced to death. (Download the full trial transcripts here.)

Thirteen years later, in the days leading up to Willingham’s execution, his attorneys sent the governor and the Board of Pardon and Parole a report from Gerald Hurst, a nationally recognized arson expert, saying that Willingham’s conviction was based on erroneous forensic analysis. Documents obtained by the Innocence Project show that state officials received that report but apparently did not act on it. Willingham was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville on February 17, 2004.

Months after Willingham was executed, the Chicago Tribune published an investigative report that raised questions about the forensic analysis. The Innocence Project assembled five of the nation’s leading independent arson experts to review the evidence in the case, and this prestigious group issued a 48-page report (below) finding that none of the scientific analysis used to convict Willingham was valid.

…issued a report finding that experts who testified at Willingham’s trial should have known it was wrong at the time.

In 2006, the Innocence Project formally submitted the case to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, asking the empowered state entity to launch a full investigation. Along with the Willingham case, the Innocence Project submitted information about another arson case in Texas where identical evidence was used to send another man to death row. In that case, Ernest Willis was exonerated and freed from prison because the forensic evidence was not valid.

In 2008, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed to investigate the case. The panel’s review has been interrupted several times over the last two years, however, and continues today. In 2009, an arson expert hired by the commission issued a report finding that experts who testified at Willingham’s trial should have known it was wrong at the time. Days before the expert was set to testify, however, Gov. Rick Perry replaced key members of the panel, delayed the investigation for months.

An investigative report in the September 7, 2009, issue of the New Yorker deconstructs every facet of the state’s case against Willingham. The 16,000-word article by David Grann shows that all of the evidence used against Willingham was invalid, including the forensic analysis, the informant’s testimony, other witness testimony and additional circumstantial evidence.

A Court of Inquiry in the Willingham case is scheduled for Oct. 14 and 15, 2010, Watch the hearing streaming live online here.

And the Texas Forensic Science Commission is scheduled to discuss the case at its regular meeting on October 15, 2010, also in Austin. Watch the TFSC meeting live online here.

Read more about the TFSC and download key documents relating to the panel here.

Resources in the case are below, along with background on the role of unvalidated forensics in wrongful convictions.

Nightline: The Wrongful Execution of Cameron Todd Willingham

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Key Reports and Documents:

2009: Report of Craig Beyler to the Texas Forensic Science Commission

2009: New Yorker investigation: Trial by Fire

2008: Innocence Project Letter to TFSC

2006: Expert Panel Report on Willingham and Willis convictions

2006: Innocence Project Filing to Texas Forensic Science Commission

2004: Gerald Hurst Report on Willingham Arson Investigation

2004: Chicago Tribune Investigation: Man Executed on Disproved Forensics – 2004

Documents Obtained from Texas via Open Records Act (PDF, below)

Download the complete Trial Transcript

Visit our Texas Forensic Science Commission page for more key documents.

Innocence Project Press Releases:

07/21/10: Texas Forensic Science Commission Set to Discuss Willingham Case and Arson Convictions Statewide

10/22/09: 400 People from 120 Texas Towns – Including 15 Exonerated with DNA Testing – Urge State Panel to Continue Willingham Probe

8/31/09: New Report Shows that Cameron Todd Willingham, Executed in Texas in 2004, Was Innocent

5/2/06: Innocence Project Submits Two Arson Cases to Texas Commission and Requests System-Wide Review


Willingham FOIA

View this document on Scribd


Willingham Arson Review Report

View this document on Scribd


whom do you trust
when justice is
not just
where do you turn
where lawlessness
will not learn?
where do you go
when noone wants to know
the legal system
in a garbage heap?
then our country
is in trouble

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

4 Comments leave one →
  1. karen lyons kalmenson permalink
    October 15, 2010 10:03 am

    who do you trust
    when justice is
    not just
    where do you turn
    where lawlessness
    will not learn?
    where do you go
    when noone wants to know
    the legal system
    in a garbage heap?
    then our country
    is in trouble


  2. donna schlageter permalink
    October 15, 2010 3:22 pm

    Dear God!!!! What the hell is wrong w/these “so called experts”???? How dare they pick/choose who lives or dies!!! This poor man died for NOTHING people!!!!!!! All, who are responsible, had best be finding/taking care of this mans’ family.. To end such a tradgety, fire all who are/were the main cause of this mans sadistic demise.. He deserves to rest in peace knowing someone, or all involved who proved his innocents, cared enough for the whole truth, not just bits/pieces.. Peace for you Cameron….



  1. DNA Tests Disprove Key Evidence in Texas Execution Case « Our Compass
  2. The Story Behind “Conviction” « Our Compass

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