State District Judge Charlie Baird said Monday that he would hold a hearing in his Travis County courtroom next week to determine whether Texas wrongly executed Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of murdering his three young children by setting fire to his Corsicana home in 1991.
Baird said in an e-mail that a man who once testified that Willingham confessed to him about burning his house down with his children inside could be among the witnesses to testify during the hearing, set for the afternoons of Oct. 6 and 7.
But the critical evidence in the case will probably be claims by a string of experts who have found in recent years that fire investigators who testified at Willingham’s 1992 Navarro County trial ruled the fire was arson based on theories that have been disproved by updated science.
Lawyers for relatives of Willingham, executed in 2004, filed a petition with Baird last week asking him to hold an inquiry into the case to restore Willingham’s reputation and to look at whether state officials committed official oppression in their handling of his case before the execution. Those state officials are not named.
The suit also asks that Baird determine whether there is probable cause to charge Texas officials with official oppression under a legal mechanism called a court of inquiry. The suit claims that those officials, who were not named, committed that crime by failing to consider before Willingham’s execution that he was convicted on discredited arson science.
Baird said in his e-mail that he has issued a bench warrant to have Johnny Everett Webb, who testified at Willingham’s 1992 trial, brought to Travis County for the hearing. Webb told a jury during that trial that Willingham confessed to the arson while they were in the same jail.
Webb is in the Navarro County Jail on forgery and marijuana possession charges. According to news accounts, including an investigation of the Willingham case by The New Yorker magazine that was published last year, Webb has given differing accounts since Willingham’s trial on whether his testimony was truthful.
That’s one hell of a can of worms. I can’t wait to see what happens. Grits has more.