AUSTIN (KXAN) - A Travis County judge has rescheduled an exoneration hearing for a man who was executed after a jury found he was guilty of murdering his children.
The hearing for Cameron Todd Willingham was reset for Oct. 14 in Judge Charles Baird's courtroom. Baird has been asked to recuse himself by the district attorneys in Williamson and Navarro counties, both of whom accuse the judge of having political motivations for granting the hearing.
Baird said Wednesday he would take that "under advisement."
Willingham was convicted for the 1991 murders of his three daughters. Investigators in the case say Willingham set his home on fire with the three girls inside in an attempt to cover up child abuse to the children.
After being executed in 2004, new evidence and advances in fire technology have raised suggestions that the fire was not intentionally set and that an innocent man was executed.
In the final seconds of his life, Willingham still maintained his innocence.
But others, including his ex-wife and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have stood by the guilty verdict.
On Wednesday morning, speaking in front of several cameras and reporters, ex-wife Stacy Kuykendall said he admitted to killing the children.
"My ex-husband murdered my daughters, and just before he was exectued, he told me he did it," said Kuykendall, reading from a statement. "He stood and watched while their tiny bodies burned."
Willingham changed his stories several times, according to Kuykendall. She was standing alongside her lawyer, Johnny Sutton, who said they were there to be a voice for the children. Here is her full statement. Here is a lengthier earlier statement provided to the Star-Telegram newspaper.
Willingham's family petitioned for a court of inquiry hearing that could exonerate him from the crime and clear his reputation. Baird , Travis County's 299th district court, granted the hearing before resetting it Wednesday afternoon.
Baird said the hearing will help address two main issues:
- Was an innocent man executed?
- If he was, how did the system allow it to happen?
However, Baird has many critics who said the hearing is politically motivated.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley , chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission , and said he believes the hearing is an attempt to undermine the death penalty and the investigation that found Willingham guilty.
A motion to disqualify Baird from hearing the case has already been filed by Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson . In the motion, Thompson questions Baird's impartiality in the case citing past rulings and opinions of the Willingham case.
The following is an excerpt from the motion:
"… it is well known among everyone working in the local criminal justice system not employed as a defense attorney that Baird dispenses his version of justice based on his own beliefs."
Bradley was appointed to chair the commission after Perry released the members last year - just before the commission was set to hear testimony on whether the forensic investigation in the Willingham case was flawed. Perry has been criticized for trying to stall Willingham's exoneration by replacing members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Others have criticized Baird, who is set to retire at the end of the year, for pushing an inquiry into a controversial case through so quickly. Gov. Rick Perry's office sent a letter , calling the petition and hearing "improper collateral attacks upon a final judgment against a man found guilty of murdering his three children."
Baird is the same judge that presided over the hearing to exonerate Timothy Cole, a man who was convicted of rape and died in prison.
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