It’s official, the State of Texas executed an innocent man – an innocent father – after prosecutors deliberately concealed evidence in his children’s arson deaths. Now the state bar of Texas has filed a formal misconduct accusation against the prosecutor in this case.
The bar had already filed a petition in Navarro County, near Dallas, earlier this month that alleged that prosecutor John Jackson deliberately withheld evidence which indicated that Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent. Because of this, Willingham was executed in 2004 for supposedly murdering his three young daughters. His daughters died in a house fire back in 1991, but the evidence Jackson suppressed showed that Willingham had nothing to do with the fire that took his daughters from him.
“Before, during, and after the 1992 trial, [Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham, and failed to disclose that evidence to defence counsel,” the petition reads.
Jackson eventually attained the position of judge, but at the time he was an assistant district attorney. The Marshall Project, a group which obtained the petition and published it, says that Jackson “made multiple attempts to secure favorable treatment for an imprisoned informant” named Johnny Webb, according to the Raw Story.
Web testified that it was Willingham who started the fire. But for his testimony, Webb’s charge was reduced from aggravated robbery to robbery which gave him a much better chance of parole. His incentive for lying is obvious.
Jackson said that there was “no evidence” which could possibly help Willingham’s defense. But that was far from the case, according to the petition and complaint filed. Forensic evidence from the arson investigators was later discredited by experts who claimed that the investigators had “misinterpreted” the evidence.
Jackson, for his part, maintained his innocence to his dying breath.
Webb later recanted his testimony in 2000. He admitted to the Marshall Project, in 2014, that he lied about the arson so that his sentence would be reduced and so he could receive thousands of dollars in payments from a wealthy local rancher.
Texas governor Rick Perry refused to grant a stay of execution. In fact, after an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission determined that the arson investigation was faulty, Perry doubled down, called Willingham a “monster” and replaced the chairman of the Science Commission for doing his job and following the… science.
During presidential debates in 2012, Perry was asked it it troubles him that he executed an innocent man. He replied: “No, sir, I’ve never struggled with that at all.” replied Perry, now a possible Republican presidential candidate again.
Among Willingham’s last words were: “The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man – convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.”
If he is convicted for hiding evidence, Jackson might end up being disbarred. But that shouldn’t bother him too much, since he retired three years ago. No matter what, an innocent man will still be dead.