Governor Rick Perry defends execution of Corsicana man some experts say
Governor Rick Perry today strenuously defended the execution of a
Corsicana man whose conviction for killing his daughters in a house fire
hinged on an arson finding that top experts call junk science.
"I'm familiar with the latter-day supposed experts on the arson side of
it," Perry said, making quotation marks with his fingers to underscore his
Even without proof that the fire was arson, he added, the court records he
reviewed before the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 showed
"clear and compelling, overwhelming evidence that he was in fact the
murderer of his children."
These were the governor's first direct comments on a case that has drawn
withering criticism from top fire experts.
Death penalty critics view the Willingham case as a study in shoddy or at
least outdated science, and they consider it the 1st proven instance in
35 years of an executed man being proven innocent after death.
"Governor Perry refuses to face the fact that Texas executed an innocent
man on his watch. Literally all of the evidence that was used to convict
Willingham has been disproven all of it," said Barry Scheck, co-director
of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit group affiliated with the Cardozo
School of Law in New York that has championed the case. "He is clearly
refusing to face reality."
3 independent reviews over the last 5 years, involving 7 of the nation's
top arson experts, found no evidence the fire was set intentionally. The
most recent is a report commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science
The author, renowned arson expert Craig Beyler, blasts the investigators
who handled the Willingham case, finding that they misread the evidence
and based their conclusions on a "poor understanding of fire science."
The commission says it is reviewing the Beyler report and other evidence
and will issue a conclusion next year.
The fire took place 2 days before Christmas 1991, and claimed the lives of
Willingham's 3 daughters: 2-year-old Amber, and 1-year-old twins, Karmon
State fire investigators and Corsicana fire officials maintained that burn
patterns, cracked windows and other signs pointed to arson.
Willingham, 24 at the time and an unemployed auto mechanic, had only
superficial burns. He said he'd run outside after Amber alerted him to the
fire, looking for the others, and couldnt reenter because the blaze grew
He had a criminal record for burglary and grand larceny. He had once
beaten his pregnant wife, and a jailhouse snitch said hed confessed.
At trial, prosecutors told jurors that Willingham had intentionally left
his daughters to die in a burning home.
But myriad scientists say that conclusion of arson was based on outdated
training that, at the time of trial 15 years ago, had already been
replaced by science-based methods that would have pointed to bad wiring or
a space heater.
Willingham protested his innocence to the end. Strapped to a gurney
awaiting lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004, he asserted that "I am an
innocent man — convicted of a crime I did not do."
The Board of Pardons and Paroles, appointed by the governor, had rejected
the appeal his lawyers had filed three days earlier. Hours before the
execution, the lawyers appealed directly to Perry.
The appeal included a report from a widely respected fire expert, Gerald
Hurst, that cast serious doubt on the arson finding.
Hurst, a Cambridge-educated chemist who was chief scientist for the
nation's largest explosive manufacturer, says the signs used as proof that
an accelerant had been poured were almost certainly the result of
"flashover" an intense heat burst that causes an entire room to erupt in
The effects of flashover can mimic arson.
In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked 3 fire experts to evaluate the case.
Their testing confirmed Hurst's report. The case was recently featured in
an extensive article in The New Yorker, launching a new round of
Perry, in Washington for a campaign fundraiser today and a speech tomorrow
to conservative activists, said during an hour-long session with reporters
that he does not believe the state executed an innocent man.
"No," he said. "We talked about this case at length. One of the most
serious and somber things that a governor of Texas deals with is the
execution of an individual. We go through a substantial amount of
In 2006, the Innocence Project, using state open records law, obtained
records from Perrys office regarding the last-minute appeal. The
governor's office provided no documents that acknowledged the contents of
the appeal or its significance, Scheck's office said a "lack of action"
that indicates the governor ignored critical analysis.
Perry, whose authority as governor is limited to delaying an execution for
30 days, said he reviewed the case extensively.
"I get a document that has all of the court process. It gives you all of
his background, all of the court machinations on the legal side of it, and
the recommendation of both my legal side and the courts. It's pretty
extensive amount of information," he said. "I have not seen anything that
would cause me to think that the decision that was made by the courts of
the state of Texas was not correct."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Error-prone death penalty system ensnares innocent
Cameron Todd Willingham's unthinkable story has shocked the conscience of
many Americans. The state of Texas executed Willingham in 2004 for
supposedly murdering his three children by setting their house on fire.
His conviction was based in substantial part on testimony by the state's
arson experts about the cause of the fire. A recent report by a fire
expert hired by Texas condemns the state's arson testimony as bogus and
In other words, Willingham almost certainly was innocent as he
desperately maintained until his last dying breath.
The expert's damning report has led to an onslaught of publicity about the
case. However, this publicity should not mislead Americans into thinking
Willingham has been the only innocent victim of our error-prone system of
capital punishment. There have almost certainly been at least nine others,
and possibly many more given the flaws in our criminal justice system
revealed by the recent explosion in DNA exoneration. These include Carlos
DeLuna, Ruben Cantu, Gary Graham, Larry Griffin and, perhaps, Sedley Alley
names no doubt unfamiliar to most Americans.
The state of Texas executed DeLuna in 1989 for stabbing to death a clerk
at a convenience store. At his trial, DeLuna's lawyers attempted to show
that the murder was committed by a man named Carlos Hernandez. The lead
prosecutor called Hernandez a phantom. Hernandez was real. A
post-execution investigation by the Chicago Tribune showed that Hernandez
almost certainly committed the crime, and Hernandez's family acknowledged
that he boasted about getting away with the murder.
Cantu was executed by the state of Texas in 1993 for an attempted
robbery-murder. His conviction was based on testimony from his
co-defendant and a surviving victim of the attempted robbery. After
Cantu's execution, both men recanted, and the victim disclosed that he had
been coerced by police to identify Cantu. The prosecutor in Cantu's case,
Sam Millsap, has since become a vocal campaigner against the death
In 2000, the state of Texas executed Graham, who changed his name while in
prison to Shaka Sankofa. The evidence against him consisted of one
eyewitness who, after being subjected to a suggestive photo lineup, said
she saw Graham through her car windshield in a dark parking lot from 20 to
40 feet away. Other witnesses stated that Graham was not the murderer
because the murderer was much shorter than he was.
Missouri executed Griffin in 1995 for a murder that occurred during a
drive-by shooting. Prior to his trial, no one bothered to interview a
surviving victim of the shooting who knew Griffin. When contacted after
Griffin's execution, this victim stated categorically that Griffin was not
involved in the crime. Also after Griffin was put to death, the first
police officer on the scene gave a new account that thoroughly undermined
the testimony of the one witness who had identified Griffin as the
Not everyone is convinced that these men were innocent. Some assert that
they have not been shown to be innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. That
may be true in some of the cases.
However, absent DNA evidence, which exists in only about 10 percent of
murder cases, a death-row inmate often has a nearly impossible time
proving beyond a reasonable doubt that they did not commit a crime. As the
old saying goes, it can sometimes be impossible to prove a negative. That
is one reason why our criminal justice system requires prosecutors to
prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and does not require criminal
defendants to prove their innocence.
DNA evidence did exist in Alley's case but it didn't do him any good. The
state of Tennessee executed Alley in 2006 for the rape and murder of a
19-year-old servicewoman. Alley had confessed to the crimes, but a leading
expert on false confessions concluded that his confession was probably
false. There was a simple way to find out. The Innocence Project, which
took on Alley's case, asked the courts to allow it to test the DNA
evidence to see whether Alley was innocent. The courts and the state of
Tennessee refused. Alley was put to death, despite the serious doubts
about his guilt.
Willingham's case would be frightening enough if it were unique. The fact
that there may be several innocent people who have been executed is
abhorrent and should give any capital punishment proponent serious pause.
The execution of an innocent person is an irrevocable event that, as
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun once wrote, comes perilously close to
murder. No society should tolerate it. Of that, there can be no doubt.
(source: John Holdridge is director of the American Civil Liberties Union
Capital Punishment Project; Christopher Hill is state strategies
coordinator for the ACLU Capital Punishment Project—- Houston Chronicle)
Setback for British grandmother on death row in America
A Britich grandmother on death row in the US has had her latest appeal
turned down – a move that means she could be executed by lethal injection
Linda Carty, 50, was sentenced to death in 2002 for her part in the
abduction and murder of a 25-year-old woman.
Campaigners say her trial was "catastrophically flawed" and Carty has
always claimed she was framed for the crime.
In the latest blow to her case, a court in New Orleans refused to overturn
the jury's decision.
Failing a last-chance appeal in the Supreme Court, Carty will be executed.
Last week, she made an emotional plea to Prime Minister Gordon Brown to
intervene. It was broadcast from the Fourth Plinth of London's Trafalgar
Square by some of her supporters.
Carty was born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts and holds a UK
dependent territory passport.
She was convicted in connection with the murder of Joana Rodriguez, who
was seized, along with her 4-day-old son, by 3 men on May 16, 2001. The
baby was later found unharmed.
Carty believes she was framed by the abductors due to her earlier work as
an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
(source: Daily Record)
Woman on Texas death row loses federal appeal—-Inmate who killed Houston
mom, kidnapped baby may turn to Supreme Court
A federal appellate court has rejected condemned inmate Linda Anita
Carty's bid for a new trial, keeping her on Texas' death row for killing a
Houston mother and kidnapping the slain woman's 4-day-old baby.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late Thursday that a district
court did not err in denying a new trial for Carty, a 50-year-old
grandmother and a native of the British Virgin Islands.
Carty's attorneys, who handled her appeal for free at the request of the
British government, argued her former lawyers provided ineffective counsel
at her trial and said the Harris County jury that convicted her might have
sentenced her to life in prison had they been given a more complete
portrait of her character.
The Texas Attorney General's Office disagreed. A Harris County prosecutor
applauded the higher court's decision.
"She was convicted of a particularly heinous offense," said Roe Wilson,
chief of the Harris County District Attorney's Post Conviction Writs
Division. "She intended to cut the baby from the stomach of a nine-month
pregnant woman. The baby, however, had already been born.
"Carty and her accomplices kidnapped the mother and the 4-day-old baby.
Carty kept the baby and killed the mother later that night by placing a
plastic bag over her head," Wilson said.
Pleas to Britons
Michael Goldberg, a partner at the Baker Botts firm who led Carty's
appeal, said he will push the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if
"We were not seeking to have her go free we were simply seeking a trial
with a lawyer that cared about putting on evidence," Goldberg said Friday.
"How can you send someone to death without giving them a chance to put on
their case even once?"
Goldberg said Carty's appellate lawyers have not yet decided whether to
ask the 5th Circuit to reconsider its ruling or whether to go straight to
the Supreme Court.
Last week, a tape-recorded message by Carty pleading for help was played
repeatedly in London's Trafalgar Square.
"I'm sorry if I sound like a desperate woman," Carty said on the tape,
according to the British newspaper The Guardian. "I am desperate, because
the British people may be my last hope. If they ask for my life to be
spared, maybe Texas will listen."
Wilson dismissed those public pleas.
"That's just something that people who are supporting her have done,"
Wilson said Friday. "It doesn't change the facts of the case. It doesn't
change the jury's decision or the courts' decisions."
Carty, a foreign national citizen of St. Kitts, where she had worked as a
teacher, planned the kidnapping of Houston mother Joana Rodriguez, 20, and
her newborn, Ray Cabrera.
On May 16, 2001, 4 gunmen burst into the family's apartment in the 10300
block of Westview and pistol whipped Rodriguez's husband, Raymond Cabrera,
and her cousin, Rigoberto Cardenas, before taking the mother and baby.
Testimony revealed Carty planned and orchestrated the crimes because she
wanted Rodriguez's baby. Carty and the other kidnappers took the mother
and baby to the 6400 block of Van Zandt, and one of the men closed the
mother in the trunk of Carty's car.
Witnesses later saw Carty standing partly in the car's trunk and partly on
the ground while Rodriguez was face down in the trunk and saw that Carty
had placed a plastic bag over the mother's head, court papers show. The
bag had been taped around the bottom, and Rodriguez's arms and legs were
bound with duct tape. Her mouth and nose also were taped.
A forensic expert later determined Rodriguez had been suffocated. The baby
was recovered unharmed and later reunited with his father.
Convicted in 2002
A Harris County jury convicted Carty of capital murder in February 2002.
Her appellate briefs said her appointed trial attorneys met her for the
1st time just 2 weeks before jury selection.
Carty's appellate attorneys argued her trial counsel gave ineffective
assistance by failing to interview Carty's boyfriend, Jose Corona, whom
she claimed was her common-law husband, and by failing to notify Corona of
his right to assert his marital privilege not to testify against her.
The federal appellate court agreed Thursday while Carty's trial lawyers
acted "objectively unreasonably" by failing to interview Corona, that
omission did not prejudice Carty's defense. Corona's testimony at trial
was "undoubtedly damaging" to Carty's case, the higher court noted, but
that did not render her conviction "fundamentally unreliable."
Carty's appellate attorneys also argued her trial lawyers were ineffective
because they failed to investigate or present mitigating evidence from
some family and friends who knew of her character and failed to reveal she
suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after becoming pregnant from
a sexual assault and giving up her baby for adoption. The federal court
found Carty failed to show others' testimony would have resulted in a life
sentence instead of the death penalty.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Texas, the Death Penalty, the prison-industrial complex and compassionate
It is amazing to me that the Lone Star state with its incredible number of
temples of all Abrahamic faiths plus, of all sizes also leads the republic
in the number of citizens the collective puts to death.
Guilt is not necessarily a requirement. Even a casual review of the news
reminds us that in just the past few years there have been 242 post
conviction DNA exonerations. On February 17, 2004, Texas executed an
innocent man. His name was Cameron Todd Willingham.
From what I've read of the Christ he was a tolerant, forgiving individual.
His message was peace. So it leaves me puzzled that people who spend most
of Sunday in temple; subscribing to piety, who self-describe and profess
to be "compassionate conservative Christian (think "W) are not tolerant,
forgiving, peaceful people.
These are the same folk who demand the death penalty, less healthcare and
more missiles. The compassionate conservative Christians see nothing wrong
in the way the residents of New Orleans too impecunious or physically
challenged to leave in advance of Hurricane Katrina were treated by
Brownie and the Bush Administration.
(source: Ruiz—-San Antonio Public Policy Director, The Examiner)