From The Washington Post and the Marshall Project: Fresh doubts over a Texas Execution

Johnny Webb last month in Corsicana, Tex. Webb says he was coaxed into testifying that Cameron Todd Willingham confessed to killing his three daughters in 1991 by arson. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)

Johnny Webb last month in Corsicana, Tex. Webb says he was coaxed into testifying that Cameron Todd Willingham confessed to killing his three daughters in 1991 by arson. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)

CORSICANA, Tex. — For more than 20 years, the prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham of murdering his three young daughters has insisted that the authorities made no deals to secure the testimony of the jailhouse informer who told jurors that Willingham confessed the crime to him.

Since Willingham was executed in 2004, officials have continued to defend the account of the informer, Johnny E. Webb, even as a series of scientific experts have discredited the forensic evidence that Willingham might have deliberately set the house fire in which his toddlers were killed.

But now new evidence has revived questions about Willingham’s guilt: 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.

“Mr. Pierce and I visit on a regular basis concerning your problems,” Jackson wrote to Webb in August 2000, eight years after the trial, when his former witness was threatening to recant. (Jackson misspelled the rancher’s last name.) “We worked for a long time on a number of different levels, including the Governor’s Office, to get you released early in the robbery case. . . . Please understand that I am not indifferent or insensitive to your difficulties.”

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. Had such favorable treatment been revealed prior to his execution, Willingham might have had grounds to seek a new trial.

CONTINUE READING at WashingtonPost.com HERE

READ “The Prosecutor and the Snitch” at The Marshall Project HERE.

‘Yes, America, We Have Executed an Innocent Man’

Andrew Cohen, legal analyst for CBS Radio News and 60 Minutes and contributing editor at The Atlantic, writes a compelling article dissecting the book-length investigation of the arrest, conviction and execution of Carlos DeLuna for a murder in 1983.

Titled “Yes, American, We Have Executed an Innocent Man,” Cohen notes that Steve Mills and I conducted our own investigation of the DeLuna case and wrote a three-part series published in 2006.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia...

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In particular, Cohen delivers a scathing criticism of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who ridiculed the proposition that an innocent defendant had been executed in America in an opinion on June 26, 2006, saying in part:

“If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”

The following day, the final installment of our series on the wrongful conviction of DeLuna was published in the Chicago Tribune.

Read Cohen’s Atlantic piece in its entirety HERE.
In 2005, James Liebman, a professor at Columbia Law School in New York, approached me and fellow Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Mills and asked if we would be interested in investigating a possible wrongful execution in Texas – -the case of Carlos DeLuna. Several months earlier, Steve and I had investigated and written an article that exposed how Cameron Todd Willingham had been executed in Texas for an arson fire that killed his three children.

Our investigation provided compelling evidence that the fire was not an arson and that Willingham was innocent. Liebman explained that his students and a private investigator had done preliminary work on the DeLuna case and had turned up some evidence that DeLuna was innocent. Liebman offered to turn over the results of their work and the documents they had collected. There were no strings.

Liebman put it simply: Take the case wherever you feel it needs to go. Pull no punches. Give it your best shot.

The result was a three part series, published in 2006, which not only provided strong evidence that DeLuna was innocent, but also identified the true killer.

Six years later, Liebman and company have published Los Tocayos Carlos –  a book-length account of the DeLuna case, published in the Columbia Human Rights Review – complete with a robust, dynamic website crammed with video interviews, photographs, transcripts, and exhibits documenting the wrongful execution.

Read the Columbia account in its entirety HERE.

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