FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Execution of Cameron Willingham

by MICHAEL SNEDEKER

“The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for twelve years for something I did not do. From God’s dust I came and to dust I will return, so the Earth shall become my throne.”

So spoke Cameron Todd Willingham just before the state of Texas killed him.  Governor Rick Perry’s abrupt dissolution of the Texas Forensic Science Commission on the eve of its long-awaited decision in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was an effort to cover up a state-sanctioned murder; days before Willingham’s execution, Perry knew or should have known how riddled with errors and mystical assumptions was the critical expert testimony purporting to show that Willingham had set fire to his own house, with his three young daughters inside.   (see, Trial by Fire,” by David Grann: New Yorker, September 7, 2009)

The botched investigation of Willingham’s suspected arson recalls the sex abuse scandals that began during the same period — the early 1980s to the early 1990s — and whose legacy endures to this day. People continue to be convicted of crimes that never happened, based on theories that experts called scientific but which later research has shown to be nonsensical, even medieval.

As in the sexual allegations, purported crime victims in fatal, accidental home fires tend to be young children. The mere suspicion of  “harm to minors” awakens deep-seated fears that stifle common sense. Willingham’s prosecutors suggested he was a member of a Satanist cult. The evidence: his heavy-metal rock posters. Day care prosecutions featured expert assertions that the accused were sociopaths and Satanists.

Shoddy arson investigations are getting scrutiny now because Willingham was executed. False convictions of child sexual abuse do not end in capital punishment (though legislatures have tried). Instead, people who are almost certainly innocent have been sentenced to centuries of time in prison. Some–including Fran and Danny Keller in Texas and James Toward and Francisco Fuster in Florida–are still there almost a generation later. The first accused daycare teacher, Bernard Baran, in Massachusetts, was finally released after 22 years and exonerated three years later.  Others are released from prison, only to end up on sex offender registries. Junk science didn’t literally kill these people, but it has stolen their lives. Their cases constitute a grave injustice, and desperately need review.

Where there is life, however, there is always hope. Nancy Smith, a school teacher, and Joseph Allen, a Head Start bus driver, were recently released from Ohio prisons after 14 years in prison for committing phantom crimes against five-year-olds.  And John Stoll – convicted of allowing people he barely knew to sodomize his six-year-old son, and himself sodomizing young children he had just met and then sending them on home after school – was released after 20 years in state prison.  He was immortalized in a movie narrated by Sean Penn (“Witchhunt”), and recently settled a civil rights case against Kern County, California, for 5.5 million dollars.  But for Cameron Willingham, there is no revenge, no redemption, no hope at all.

MICHAEL SNEDEKER is a defense attorney, co-author with Debbie Nathan of Satan’s Silence:  Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witchhunt,  and President of NCRJ.org, an innocence campaign for people wrongly accused or convicted of crimes against children. He can be reached at m.snedeker@comcast.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail