Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Yes Texas, you executed an innocent man

And his name was, as we all know by now, Cameron Todd Willingham.  It has been said repeatedly before.  And most recently now, as a jailhouse stooge confesses -- again -- that he was coerced by the prosecutor in the case to frame Willingham.

A blockbuster report Monday from The Washington Post reveals prosecutors got a jailhouse informant to lie about a capital murder case in exchange for a lighter sentence.
In 1992, Cameron Todd Willingham of Texas was convicted of killing his three daughters by lighting their house on fire. Key to the prosecution’s case was testimony from Johnny E. Webb, who testified in court that Willingham told him how he started the fires. In 2004, Willingham was executed despite serious doubts about forensic evidence. Now, Webb says his testimony was coerced by prosecutor John H. Jackson, who arranged for Webb’s sentence to be lightened and to secure funds for him from a wealthy rancher.

If this behavior had been exposed before Willingham’s execution, he may have been entitled to a new trial. The Innocence Project, a New York-based advocacy group, called for an investigation into Jackson’s conduct, charging he “violated core principles of the legal profession, and did so with terrible consequences ... the execution of an innocent man.”

From the WaPo article.

In taped interviews, Webb, who has previously both recanted and affirmed his testimony, gives his first detailed account of how he lied on the witness stand in return for efforts by the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, to reduce Webb’s prison sentence for robbery and to arrange thousands of dollars in support from a wealthy Corsicana rancher. Newly uncovered letters and court files show that Jackson worked diligently to intercede for Webb after his testimony and to coordinate with the rancher, Charles S. Pearce Jr., to keep the mercurial informer in line.

Please go read the entire article, complete with an image of Jackson's letter to Webb detailing the efforts to ease his incarceration because of his compliance in the fix.

Along with Webb’s account, the letters and documents expose a determined, years-long effort by the prosecutor to alter Webb’s conviction, speed his parole, get him clemency and move him from a tough state prison back to his hometown jail.

Some more.

...(T)he letters and court files show that Webb threatened to renounce his testimony against Willingham at least twice before. In 2000, he sent a formal motion to recant to the Navarro County District Attorney’s Office that was forwarded to Jackson, but never put in Willingham’s court file or shared with his lawyers.

Jackson — who was elected as a Navarro County judge in November 1996 and retired in 2012 — does not deny going out of his way to help Webb. But in a recent interview he said he did so only because he thought Webb was threatened by other inmates for cooperating with the prosecution. He has described allegations that he coaxed false testimony from Webb as a “complete fabrication.”

In response to a detailed list of questions about his dealings with Webb and Pearce, Jackson last week refused to comment further. Pearce died in 2008.

Oh, and this last part.

Webb’s latest allegations and the other new evidence in the matter could also have implications for the Texas governor, Rick Perry, a strong supporter of the death penalty and a possible Republican presidential candidate.

In 2004, Perry refused to temporarily stay Willingham’s execution despite the report of a leading forensic expert that sharply disputed the finding of arson by a Texas deputy fire marshal. Perry’s administration has also repeatedly undercut the authority of a state Forensic Science Commission, which agreed that the arson finding relied on flawed analysis. Defending his handling of the case in 2009, the governor declared that Willingham “was a monster.”

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, the members of which were all appointed by Perry, voted in March to deny Willingham a posthumous full pardon.

The day of reckoning is surely coming, and not just for John H. Jackson, Rick Perry, and all the rest. The day is fast approaching when we must, by all moral responsibility, abolish the penalty in Texas and throughout this nation.  And it can't come soon enough.

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