AUSTIN (KXAN) - New evidence will show that false testimony was presented by prosecutors in a case that sent a Texas man to the execution chamber in Huntsville, the Innocence Project said Friday.
The organization that seeks to overturn convictions of people it believes were wrongly incarcerated said that Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death in 2004 for a murder he did not commit. Willingham was condemned for the arson that led to the murder of his three daughters in 1991.
The organization was joined by members of Willingham's family, lawyer Barry Scheck, state Sen. Rodney Ellis and Michael Morton, who was finally exonerated in the death of his wife after spending 25 years behind bars.
The Innocence Project filed an amended petition Friday on behalf of the Willingham family. The document cites what the organization says is newly discovered evidence that points to possible false testimony at his trial and possible prosecutorial misconduct.
Part of the evidence includes a a letter written by key witness, Johnny Webb from jail. In it he says, " I was forced to testify by the D.A's office. I was made to lie. Mr. Willingham is innocent of all charges. " It was a letter written before Willingham was executed.
Other evidence includes a report that questions whether the fire that killed his daughters was intentionally set.
Attorney Gerry Goldstein said, "We not have evidence that Governor Rick Perry didn't get to see. Evidence none of us were aware of. It's time to bring it out in the open for a fair and honest review."
“Todd’s dying wish was that we help clear his name, and we can’t let this go until the state acknowledges the grave injustice that Todd suffered,” said Eugenia Willingham, the stepmother of the executed man.
Last year, the Willingham family petitioned the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to formally review the case.
A fire destroyed Willingham's home in 1991 and killed his three daughters. A state fire marshal who studied the scene testified at Willingham's 1992 trial that the fire was arson.
Scientists have since refuted much of the methodology used by arson investigators before 1992, including the techniques used by the fire marshal in the Willingham fire. Attorneys submitted the new scientific findings to Gov. Rick Perry in 2004 and asked for time to reopen the case, but Perry allowed Willingham's execution to go forward that year. Willingham maintained his innocence until his death.
“Willingham was a monster,” Perry told reporters in 2009 when controversy over the execution intensified. “Here's a guy who murdered his three children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so he wouldn't have those kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that, quite frankly, you all are not covering.”
The state fire marshal's office stood by their findings in the case until 2011, when the Texas Forensics Commission ruled the methods used were profoundly scientifically flawed.
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