Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Marshall Project: Prosecutor misled court about aid to Willingham snitch

The brand spanking new Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism project focused on criminal justice, launched its first big feature this week: An examination by Maurice Possley of the remaining evidence against Todd Willingham outside of now-debunked arson testimony, honing in in particular on a confidential informant, Johnny Webb, who later recanted his testimony. Possley was one of the Chicago Tribune reporters who first credibly alleged that, by killing Willingham, Texas may have executed an innocent man.

The New York Times earlier this spring reported that Webb's cooperation agreement had never been disclosed to the defense. The Marshall Project's notable addition to the story: At trial, John Jackson told the court the informant received no benefit from his testimony. But in reality, he arranged substantial financial assistance through a third party and aggressively sought clemency for Webb even after he ascended to the bench and was no longer a prosecutor, Possley reported. The article does a nice job of linking to primary sources for most of its more controversial claims.

See more analysis of the new revelations from a national Innocence Project press release. The Dallas News editorial board opined in response that, "Outrageous allegations of unethical or illegal gamesmanship in the prosecution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004, need a thorough and transparent examination by the State Bar of Texas."

Combine this Marshall Project article with David Grann's New Yorker piece on the case, the Texas Forensic Science Commission's mammoth report (large pdf) on junk arson science in this and the Ernest Willis case, Possley's original Chicago Tribune report (with Steve Mills), Judge Charlie Baird's never-issued opinion from the halted court of inquiry, and, if I may be so bold, Grits' Willingham coverage, which contains links and references to lots of contemporary material, and you'd have a pretty decent summary of all that's happened before and after Willingham's 2004 execution.

This deadly fire nearly a quarter century ago in Corsicana must be one of the exhaustively reported (probably non-) crime stories of the modern era. If it can be uncovered via methods of law, journalism, science, or government inquiry, it's likely been explored in the Willingham case. Ironically, so many resources have been thrown into this endeavor precisely because Todd Willingham is dead. If he'd been incarcerated on a life sentence like Ed Graf (who won a new trial, delayed until September while the DA looks for their lost files, and is now sitting in the McLennan County Jail), sadly I doubt the national press would blink an eye.


Harry Homeless said...

But what would it take to prove an innocent man was executed in the minds of the masses? It seems that TPTB and the players involved can keep the waters muddied enough (or stymied enough) so no definitive resolution is ever made.

Anonymous said...

The biggest public opinion hurdle regarding this issue is the opinion by far too many that the execution of one innocent is perfectly okay since he was likely guilty of something and that most of those executed actually are guilty. It blows my mind when I hear that logic. I hope Todd will get his justice, even if it is too late for him.

Anonymous said...

If we all live long enough, we will find out that Rick Perry executed an innocent man.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Harry, man that's a very good question. I personally think that it's already been proven a couple of times. But, those with: closed minds and, the brain washed gangbangers (Rs, Ds & Inbetweeners) would be ridiculed by their own gangs if they grew a pair and agreed using their real names. I say give Death Row wrongs $1 million per year (with lawyers getting none of it) and $100K per year to anyone else that's wronged - despite the type of evidence or, year of the wronging. If that doesn't wake up taxpayers, raise it. Or, remove the $80K per year bribe dedicated to the selected few and give nothing but a Public Apology from the court house steps & issue a Full Pardon - for / based on Innocence.

While we all want the killers & rapists permanently off the streets, that doesn't mean that we must Cherry Pick a few of them to kill and imprison the rest. Instead, they should all be housed in the same facility in downtown Austin, Tx. (forever) vs. being spread around the state with folks doing time for non-violent crimes and all the sudden throw them back into society, with a time out making it all go away.

When & if they are deemed to have been wrongfully convicted via: mandatory supervetting, we can simply release them with enough sorry-about-that bribery funds that hopefully makes everyone sick and tired of allowing it. Until then, we are on course for: decades of Rinsing & Repeating and Bloggingaboutit. For that, we have the Legislature and those that put them in their compfy chairs to thank. Thanks.

*As for the Marshall Project, c'mon, like Grits has pointed out, it's been uncovered & covered by plenty of groups with GFB being the most prolific. I thought they were going to do something different with all of that money and gifted minds. Unless they are working on behalf of the Willingham Estate and / or, are an Anti-Death Penalty group - What a let down.