Saturday, March 01, 2014

Willingham prosecutor allegedly failed to disclose jailhouse snitch deal

The New York Times this week (Feb. 27) published an article on the Todd Willingham case casting doubt on the credibility of a jailhouse informant who provided the only evidence besides flawed arson science suggesting that Willingham, who has since been executed, set the fire that killed his three children. Reported the Times' John Schwartz:
Mr. Willingham was convicted on charges of setting the 1991 fire in Corsicana, Tex., that killed his three children, and was sentenced to death the next year. The conviction rested on two pillars of evidence: analysis by arson investigators, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who said that Mr. Willingham had confessed the crime to him.

The arson investigation has since been discredited; serious questions were raised about the quality of the scientific analysis and testimony, which did not measure up to the standard of science even at the time. But the prosecutor who led the case shortly before Mr. Willingham’s execution argued that even though the arson analysis had been questioned, the testimony of Mr. Webb should be enough to deny any attempt for clemency.

In recent weeks, as part of an effort to obtain a posthumous exoneration from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry, lawyers working on Mr. Willingham’s behalf say they have found evidence that Mr. Webb gave his testimony in return for a reduced prison sentence. Evidence of an undisclosed deal could have proved exculpatory during Mr. Willingham’s trial or figured in subsequent appeals, but Mr. Webb and the prosecutor at trial, John Jackson — who would later become a judge — explicitly denied that any deal existed during Mr. Webb’s testimony. ...
The Innocence Project also contends that prosecutors suppressed an effort by Mr. Webb to recant his testimony. ...
What has changed is that investigators for the Innocence Project have discovered a curt handwritten note in Mr. Webb’s file in the district attorney’s office in Corsicana. The current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, made the files available to the Innocence Project lawyers, and in late November one of the lawyers, Bryce Benjet, received a box of photocopies.

As he worked through the stack of papers, he saw a note scrawled on the inside of the district attorney’s file folder stating that Mr. Webb’s charges were to be listed as robbery in the second degree, not the heavier first-degree robbery charge he had originally been convicted on, “based on coop in Willingham.”
Flawed forensics and prosecutorial misconduct are a potent mix. No one will ever know for certain whether Todd Willingham was innocent or guilty - one can't prove a negative - but it's pretty certain at this point he should never have been convicted in the first place.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Innocence Project did a good job in finding the note in the DA's file. Now will anyone take the former prosecuter turned Judge to task? I do hope so.

Andrew McMillen said...

Rick Perry doesn't agree; the "good people" of Corsicana and Texas fried an innocent man who had already lost his children.
Is there a better definition of Hell, created by "Christians"?
How much worse could "heathens" be?

Robert Langham said...

It's fun to bash the Christian Church, but I don't think it has much to do with this case.

Yes, the prosecutor should be made "an example of" in this high profile case. He should be turned into a felon, at the least, to gain understanding of the mis-use of power granted by the citizens to such positions as the one he held.

Skifool said...

I wonder if the defense attorney at trial filed a "Motion to Reveal the Deal"…..

Skifool said...

I am wondering if the defense attorney at trial filed a "Motion to Reveal the Deal."

Anonymous said...

IP did a great job and we know now that Willingham was innocent and not guilty. Mr. Willingham was put to death because of the prosecutor lied, this is a crime which took an innocent mans like.John Jackson should receive the same!

Anonymous said...

In California I think the death penalty can be applied to a prosecutor who knowingly tried to have an innocent man put down. "perjury causing execution of an innocent person" is a capital offense in California

Anonymous said...

Seems to me it at least warrants a manslaughter charge.

Anonymous said...

Grits, what are the steps to be taken in order to get a special prosecutor assigned to the case and get it onto the rarely utilized Court of Inquiry docket which has redeemed itself as of lately?

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if the defense attorney at trial filed a "Motion to Reveal the Deal."

You mean the defense attorney who went on national TV and said he thought his client was guilty?

I'm gonna' say no.

Rage