Monday, December 28, 2009

"Experts" Execute Man in Texas
We cannot blindly trust a prosecutor's or a police officer's claims of certainty or expertise. A moving essay in the New Yorker suggests that a man in Texas may have been executed for a crime he did not commit based on the testimony of experts who did not know what they were talking about.

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for burining his own house down and, in the process, killing his three children. Willingham was found guilty at a jury trial based in large part on the testimony of arson investigators who claimed to be experts in determining the cause of fires. They testified that the burn patterns clearly pointed to arson and that they were confident that Willingham started the fire in an attempt to kill his children.

The trouble is that the methods these supposed experts used to make these determinations are totally unscientific and unreliable. Dr. Gerald Hurst, who received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Cambridge University, reviewed the evidence pointing to arson in Willingham's case and concluded that the fire was accidental. It was not caused by arson. As David Grann writes in the New Yorker, "Hurst concluded that there was no evidence of arson, and that a man who had already lost his three children and spent twelve years in jail was about to be executed based on 'junk science.'"

Hurst's scathing report and extensive research strongly suggested that the State of Texas was close to killing an innocent man. But that did not stop the executioner. Willingham was put to death on February 17, 2004. He protested his innocence to the end.


Mark said...

Can these so-called "experts" be liable at all for the inappropriate execution of Willingham?

Joshua Baron said...

Probably not. The government and its employees are usually protected by sovereign immunity. Many states are now providing ways for innocent people to receive compensation from the state when they are incarcerated, though.

dudleysharp said...

The Innocence Scam: The Anti Death Penalty Movement
Dudley Sharp, contact info below

"Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown", A Collection of Articles

"The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents"

"The Exonerated: Are Any Actually Innocent?"

"Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review"

"At the Death House Door" Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?"

"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

The 130 (now 139) death row "innocents" scam

23 recent deterrence studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation,

"Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock"

"Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let's be clear"

Sincerely, Dudley Sharp
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.