Tribpedia: Cameron Todd Willingham

Tribpedia

Cameron Todd Willingham was a Corsicana man executed by Texas in 2004, after a jury convicted him of setting a 1991 house fire that killed his three young daughters. He insisted on his innocence until his execution and refused to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.

In 2006, the non-profit Innocence Project presented evidence to the Texas Forensic ...

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Morton Case is Focus of Williamson County DA Race

Michael Morton’s name isn’t on the ballot, but he has become the central figure in the heated campaign to become tough-on-crime Williamson County's next district attorney. Incumbent John Bradley, not one to shy away from political fights, is taking on a challenger who is campaigning on his highest-profile mistake.

Texplainer: What is a Court of Inquiry?

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Hey, Texplainer: A court of inquiry reversed the wrongful conviction of Timothy Cole. Now lawyers seek the same legal procedure to investigate whether evidence was withheld in the case that wrongfully sent Michael Morton to prison for 25 years. When does a judge call for a court of inquiry and what else can judges review in these prceedings?

Forensic Science Panel Recommends Arson Probe

The momentous and long-awaited move was welcomed by the family of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted of killing his three daughters in a 1991 arson fire. He was executed in 2004, and scientists have since discredited the science that was used to cement his arson conviction.

Forensic Panel Calls for Review of Past Arson Cases

The Texas Forensic Science Commission said it would not issue a finding of misconduct against the state fire marshal in the Cameron Todd Willingham arson case. But the commission recently reached agreement with the state fire marshal’s office to review other arson cases that may have resulted from faulty evidence.

Video: Sam Bassett: The TT Interview

The former chairman of the Forensic Science Commission on why he believes the governor replaced him, whether he thinks political motivations were behind it, and why he argues it is critical for the Texas justice system that the commission finish its investigation into the Cameron Todd Willingham arson case.

Former Texas Forensic Science Commissioner, Sam Bassett - September 09, 2011
Former Texas Forensic Science Commissioner, Sam Bassett - September 09, 2011

Sam Bassett: The TT Interview

The former chairman of the Forensic Science Commission on why he believes the governor replaced him, whether he thinks political motivations were behind it, and why he argues it is critical for the Texas justice system that the commission finish its investigation into the Cameron Todd Willingham arson case.

Advocates Urge Panel to Continue Willingham Probe

The Innocence Project is urging the Forensic Science Commission, meeting today, to forge ahead with its investigation of the Cameron Todd Willingham case despite a ruling from the state’s top lawyer that seemed to limit the panel’s authority. 

Texas AG Ruling May End Willingham Probe

The Texas Forensic Science Commission’s investigation of the science used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham — executed in 2004 for an arson that killed his three children — may be at an end after the state’s top attorney Friday ruled that the panel cannot consider evidence in cases older than 2005.

Dr. Nizam Peerwani: The TT Interview

Dr. Nizam Peerwani talks with The Texas Tribune about his new role as chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

A transcript of the interview follows:

TT: Tell us about your background and your work.

Peerwani: I’m a graduate of the American University, and then I went to Baylor in Dallas, I’m a board-certified pathologist, and of course work as a county medical examiner. I was hired in 1979, so, good Lord, it’s 32 years now.

TT: How well has the Commission handled the Cameron Todd Willingham investigation?

Peerwani: From the very onset there was this issue that was raised by the Commission whether or not the Commission had the jurisdiction to accept that case. As you know, we had written a letter to the Attorney General's office, I think this was in late January of this year. And there are there three major issues that face the commission and we need some definitions. One of the things is that, should the commission accept cases that predate its creation? The commission was created in 2005. Now as you know, the Willingham case took place in 1991.
So that’s an issue, whether we have in fact have legal jurisdiction to accept the case or not. But there are many among us who felt that since the case has been accepted, that it is our duty to bring a closure to the case. And that’s why we continued, and I supported that. At the end of the day, every member of the commission fully understands that it is not the duty of the commission to decide guilt or innocence.

TT: What if the AG rules that the commission can't investigate older cases?

Peerwani: I’m afraid that if that’s what the AG recommends, then this particular case is not going to be reopened.

TT: What lessons did the Commission learn from the Willingham case?

Peerwani: I think that the Willingham case was an important case for the Forensic Science Commission, because the recommendations at the end of the investigation are very important, and I truly believe that if some of the recommendations, if not all of the recommendations, are adopted, we’ll have a much better environment in which science is practiced in the court of law. But we also understand the limitations of going back into old cases. This was a case that took place 20 years ago, and it does create a lot of issues. One of the things that we debated at the commission level is the duty to correct, and the duty to inform. If errors have been made in the past, because either of human error or because science has migrated, what is the responsibility of the agency? And I think there is no clarity on that.

TT: Do you think Willingham committed arson?

Peerwani: Those indicators were certainly state of the art in 1991, but we now know based on everything we understand about fire science that they were incorrect. So if that was the only basis on which Willingham case was guilty, then you can say that we have a problem with the case. But there were other issues. There were eyewitness accounts, there were hospital and doctor testimony given, and investigative findings, so, you know, I was really focused on the fire science, and I think the fire science was wrong.

TT: What role does the Commission play in forensic science education?

Peerwani: Well, the commission’s role, I think, is to define, what really science is all about, and to make sure that the attorneys and judges who apply the science understand the limitations of science. We will now come to realize that we should not be absolutely relying on science, because science has also got flaws. And that there should be balance in the court of law.

Dr. Nizam Peerwani, Tarrant County medical examiner, is the new chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Dr. Nizam Peerwani, Tarrant County medical examiner, is the new chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

New Head of Forensic Science Panel Takes On Arson Case

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Death and the science of it have dominated Dr. Nizam Peerwani's 30-year career in the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. Now, he's taking on a very live controversy as chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission: the continuing investigation into the arson science that led to execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.

TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 7/11/11

Check our new Perrypedia — a home for stories and data about you-know-who, Ramshaw on health care in the colonias, Root's look back at Rick Perry's years as a Democrat, M. Smith on the pressures facing the TEA, yours truly on David Dewhurst's impact on the U.S. Senate race, E. Smith's panel discussion on the Cameron Todd Willingham case, Hamilton on Perry and higher ed, Murphy on who's paying the pole tax, Grissom on Alto's decision to close its police department, Aguilar on labor and security worries over trucking on the border and Galbraith on what government can't do during a drought: The best of our best content from July 11 to 15, 2011.

Triblive: A Conversation About Cameron Todd Willingham

Following our Tuesday night screening of Incendiary: The Willingham Case, I talked about the science of fire, guilt and innocence and death penalty politics with the filmmakers, Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr.; former Forensic Science Commission Chairman Sam Bassett; former Texas Governor Mark White; and Acting Corsicana City Attorney Terry Jacobson.

TribLive: A Conversation About Cameron Todd Willingham

Following our Tuesday night screening of Incendiary: The Willingham Case, I talked about the science of fire and death penalty politics with the filmmakers, Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr.; former Forensic Science Commission Chairman Sam Bassett; former Texas Gov. Mark White; and acting Corsicana City Attorney Terry Jacobson.

Perry's Death Penalty Stance a Mixed Bag Nationally

In tough-on-crime Texas, Rick Perry has overseen the executions of 230 prisoners — more than any other modern governor. But as he eyes a bid for the White House, his willingness to implement the death penalty and his fervent denial of the possibility Texas may have executed an innocent man could have mixed consequences.

Texas Forensic Science Commission members (left to right) Dr Stanley Hamilton,  Dr. Nizam Peerwani and Lance Evans on April 14th, 2011
Texas Forensic Science Commission members (left to right) Dr Stanley Hamilton, Dr. Nizam Peerwani and Lance Evans on April 14th, 2011

Perry Chooses New Forensic Science Board Chairman

Gov. Rick Perry today announced he has appointed Dr. Nizam Peerwani, a well-known Fort Worth medical examiner, to lead the Texas Forensic Science Commission. He replaces Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as leader of the panel that has been embroiled in controversy practically since its inception. Bradley failed to win Senate confirmation during the legislative session that ended last month.

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, talks to an aide on the Senate floor on May 9, 2011.  Hinojosa is under considereation for a spot on the budget conference committee.
Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, talks to an aide on the Senate floor on May 9, 2011. Hinojosa is under considereation for a spot on the budget conference committee.

Updated: Forensic Science Commission Bill Revived

A bill that would clarify and expand the jurisdiction of the Forensic Science Commission appeared to have fizzled in the Texas House. But tonight lawmakers revived the bill and voted it out of committee.

Activist Jamie Bush attends the Texas Forensic Science Commission board meeting on September 17, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.
Activist Jamie Bush attends the Texas Forensic Science Commission board meeting on September 17, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.

Senate OKs Forensic Science Commission Bill

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The mission and jurisdiction of the ever-controversial Texas Forensic Science Commission would get some clarification under a bil the Senate approved today.

John Bradley, left, is the new chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Cameron Todd Willingham, right, was executed for setting a house fire that killed his three daughters.
John Bradley, left, is the new chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Cameron Todd Willingham, right, was executed for setting a house fire that killed his three daughters.

Bassett: Politics Stymied Willingham Investigation

The former chairman of a state forensic board applauded the current commissioners' report on the arson investigation used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham, a review that recommended wide-ranging improvements in fire science. But he said he's deeply concerned that politics interfered in their ability to take a stronger stance on the case.

Presiding Officer of the Texas Forensic Science Commission John Bradley during a commission meeting April 14th, 2011
Presiding Officer of the Texas Forensic Science Commission John Bradley during a commission meeting April 14th, 2011

Board Approves Report on Willingham

Members of a state forensic board today accepted an amended version of a report on convicted arsonist Cameron Todd Willingham's case, but won't rule on professional negligence until the attorney general says whether they have jurisdiction to do so.

Presiding Officer of the Texas Forensic Science Commission John Bradley during a commission meeting April 14th, 2011
Presiding Officer of the Texas Forensic Science Commission John Bradley during a commission meeting April 14th, 2011

Still No Decision on Negligence in Willingham Case

After releasing a draft report on the case of convicted arsonist Cameron Todd Willingham, state forensic board members refused again today to rule on whether investigators in the case were professionally negligent in deciding the fire that killed Willingham's three daughters was intentionally ignited.

John Bradley, left, is the new chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Cameron Todd Willingham, right, was executed for setting a house fire that killed his three daughters.
John Bradley, left, is the new chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Cameron Todd Willingham, right, was executed for setting a house fire that killed his three daughters.

Texas Panel Examines Arson Investigation Practices

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has released its draft report on the Cameron Todd Willingham case without ruling on the central question before it — whether the investigators were negligent or committed professional misconduct when they concluded with certainty that the fire was a deliberate arson.