The Brief: Fresh Doubts About Willingham Execution

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004.
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004.

The Big Conversation

A new report raises fresh doubts about a key witness whose testimony was instrumental in securing the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. With the forensic evidence against Willingham now discredited, this forces to the fore again whether Texas executed an innocent man.

That witness, jailhouse informer Johnny E. Webb, says now on tape that he lied on the witness stand to get his sentence reduced, according to a report by Maurice Possley of The Marshall Project published in the Washington Post. Possley also reported on newly discovered letters that show the prosecutor's actions aimed at keeping the informer from recanting.

Possley wrote, "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."

These new questions crop up as Gov. Rick Perry raises his national profile in anticipation of a possible second run for the White House. Willingham was executed in 2004, while Perry was governor. And Perry has for years defended his decision to allow the execution to go forward "despite the report of a leading forensic expert that sharply disputed the finding of arson by a Texas deputy fire marshal," Possley wrote.

Perry described Willingham as "a monster" to reporters in 2009.

The Day Ahead

•    The joint interim committee created to study the desirability of a coastal barrier system meets at 10 a.m. in Galveston. (agenda)

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Quote to Note

"I didn't come to Washington to be loved, and I haven't been disappointed."

— U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, on the controversy over his push not to reauthorize to Export-Import Bank. His stance has put him at odds with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a longtime GOP ally.

Today in TribTalk

A rancher on the border of fear and compassion, by Hugh Fitzsimons

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    The Texas Tribune Festival runs from Sept. 19-21 at the University of Texas at Austin.

Bonus event! Skip the line and join us at legendary Franklin Barbecue for an intimate dinner and a lively discussion about the upcoming election with Chris Hayes of MSNBC. This event is not included in the regular Festival badge and requires an extra ticket. Barbecue and beer are included with the ticket price of $250.

Purchase your ticket when you register, but hurry as space is extremely limited. Tickets on sale now.