Texas May Have Executed Innocent Man

Informant lied to strike a deal, says advocacy group

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 1, 2014 7:46 AM CST

(Newser) – Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 after being convicted of an especially heinous crime: murdering his three young daughters in a fire. But a decade later, the Innocence Project says newly discovered documents suggest something else heinous: The state killed an innocent man. As the New York Times explains, the prosecution's case relied on the testimony of jailhouse informant Johnny Webb, who claimed that Willingham had confessed to him. The Innocence Project says Webb lied to strike a deal for a lighter sentence on his own robbery charges, and it uncovered a note in Webb's file dictating that his charges were to be reduced "based on coop in Willingham," reports the Guardian. During Webb's testimony, he and the prosecution denied any such deal was in place.

The AP tracks down the lead prosecutor in the case, who still denies it. "The file may certainly reflect that we tried to get sentencing shortened, but it had nothing to do with any agreement relative to the Willingham trial," says John Jackson, who went on to become a judge and is now retired. The Innocence Project has filed an appeal with the state pardon board to have Willingham exonerated, but the ultimate decision will be made by Gov. Rick Perry or his successor. Perry called Willingham a "monster" 10 years ago in allowing his execution to take place, and a spokesperson says his position hasn't changed. Still, "we'll see what happens," says Willingham's stepmother. "I can't help but be hopeful."

This undated file photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Cameron Todd Willingham.   (AP Photo/Texas Department of Criminal Justice, File)
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