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

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail