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Thread: Willingham juror no longer sure of his guilt in Texas

      
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    sjdrewk
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    Default Willingham juror no longer sure of his guilt in Texas

    This is why I hate being selected for jury duty.
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    updated 11:40 a.m. EDT, Fri October 16, 2009

    (CNN) -- At least one member of the jury that sentenced Cameron Todd Willingham to death in the arson homicides of his three children says she is struggling with the idea that she might have convicted an innocent man.


    A family photo shows Cameron Todd Willingham with his wife, Stacy, and daughters Kameron, Amber and Karmon.

    It has been 17 years since Willingham was convicted in Texas of setting a house fire that killed his children, a crime Willingham vehemently denied right up until his execution in 2004.

    Since that time, three investigations have concluded arson was not the likely cause of the 1991 fire, including one that arrived in Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office 88 minutes before the scheduled execution.

    Perry replaced four of nine members of the Texas Forensics Sciences Commission in recent weeks, just before the commission was to receive a report from the latest of the three investigations.

    The controversy has led juror Dorenda Brokofsky to think twice about the decision she made in a jury room in 1992.

    "I don't sleep at night because of a lot of this," Brokofsky said. "I have gone back and forth in my mind trying to think of anything that we missed. I don't like the fact that years later someone is saying maybe we made a mistake, that the facts aren't what they could've been."

    Brokofsky spoke with CNN by phone from her Midwest home. She has long since moved away from tiny Corsicana, Texas, where the fire took place.


    Texas governor shakes up panel probing 2004 execution
    "I do have doubts now," she said. "I mean, we can only go with what we knew at the time, but I don't like the fact now that maybe this man was executed by our word because of evidence that is not true. It may not be true now. And I don't like the fact that I may have to face my God and explain what I did."

    "When you're sitting there with all those facts, there was nothing else we could see," she said. "Now I don't know. I can't tell you he's innocent, I can't say 100 percent he's guilty."

    Brokofsky had another revelation. She said she thought she would be excluded from the jury because of her family's close relationship with key witness and then-Corsicana Assistant Fire Chief Douglas Fogg.

    Her father was also a fire marshal for eight years before the Willingham fire.

    "I was raised with my father being a fire marshal," she said. "He went around proving that stuff, so he wasn't here at that time. But I knew Doug Fogg, who was one of the witnesses. It was no secret, but I didn't think they would pick me as a juror because of it."

    Critics say Perry's recent actions to shake up the commission were politically motivated, a charge he denies.

    Perry's office said it received a five-page fax on the day of the execution that contained an arson expert's findings that the fire was not deliberately set.

    It is unclear whether Perry read the fax.

    "Given the brevity of the report and the general counsel's familiarity with all the other facts in the case, there was ample time for the general counsel to read and analyze the report and to brief the governor on its contents," Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

    Willingham was executed less than two hours later.

    Death-penalty opponents say an impartial review of Willingham's case could lead to an unprecedented admission -- that the state executed an innocent man. The latest report concluded that the arson ruling at the heart of Willingham's conviction "could not be sustained" by modern science or the standards of the time.

    Perry said he remains confident Willingham was guilty, as do authorities in Corsicana, south of Dallas, who prosecuted Willingham.

    Willingham's wife's brother, Ronnie Kuykendall, said in a signed affidavit that Stacy Willingham told her family that Todd Willingham confessed to killing the children during her visit to him on death row a few days before the execution.

    But Stacy Willingham testified for her husband during his trial, while her family argued he was guilty. CNN could not reach her for comment.

    Even Willingham's defense attorney, David Martin, remains confident his client committed the crime.

    "There was no question whatsoever that he was guilty," Martin said on CNN's "AC360" Thursday night. Watch defense attorney say client was guilty

    Martin slammed the most recent report on the Willing ham case, by Maryland arson expert Craig Beyler, as "one of the least objective reports I've ever read."



    On Thursday, Perry also lambasted the Beyler report as having "a very politically driven agenda" and being propaganda for the anti-death penalty movement.

    Beyler, asked about Perry's statements, said they were "strange and clueless." E-mail to a friend | Mixx it | Share

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    Default Re: Willingham juror no longer sure of his guilt in Texas

    Texas panel reviews ruling that led to execution
    By MICHAEL GRACZYK (AP) Sep 26, 2009

    CORSICANA, Texas More than five years after his final act from the Texas death chamber gurney was a profanity-filled tirade, the murder case of executed inmate Cameron Todd Willingham refuses to die.

    Willingham was executed in February 2004 proclaiming his innocence and hoping aloud that his wife would "rot in hell" for the deaths of his three young daughters in a fire at their Corsicana home on Dec. 23, 1991.

    An arson finding by investigators was key to his conviction in the circumstantial case.

    The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that investigates possible wrongful convictions, questioned Willingham's guilt. Now the Texas Forensic Science Commission will review a report Friday from an expert it hired who concluded the original arson determination was faulty.

    The prosecutor in the case still believes Willingham is guilty, but acknowledges it would have been hard to win a death sentence without the arson finding.

    Yet Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, sees it differently: "There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person has been executed."

    In 2006, Scheck's group gave its review of the case to the state commission, which later hired Baltimore-based arson expert Craig Beyler to study. Beyler concluded the arson finding was scientifically unsupported and investigators at the scene had "poor understandings of fire science."

    John Jackson, the prosecutor in Navarro County, about 50 miles south of Dallas, says the original fire investigation was "undeniably flawed," based on subsequent reviews, but remains confident Willingham was guilty of killing Amber, 2, and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron.

    "What people missed is that even though the arson report may be flawed, it certainly doesn't mean it arrived at a faulty conclusion," Jackson said.

    "I'm an easy target," he added, shaking his head over media reports on the case "about how we're all a bunch of bozos."

    The nine-member commission, created by the Texas Legislature in 2005, also will hear from others including the State Fire Marshal's Office. The panel will release its own report, probably next year and what happens then is uncertain. This is the commission's first review case; the panel is not empowered to rule on Willingham's guilt or innocence.

    The commission's mandate is strictly to determine forensic negligence, panel coordinator Leigh Tomlin said.

    Willingham, in an Associated Press interview about two weeks before his execution, said Amber's cries woke him around 10:30 a.m. His wife, Stacy, had left earlier to run errands.

    He said he told Amber to get out of the house and approached the twins' room but couldn't get past the flames and smoke. The house had no phone, so he said he ran to a neighbor's home and "screamed to call the fire department."

    He did not go back inside.

    "The only way for me to get back into the house was to jump back into the flames," he said. "I would not do that."

    Amber's body was found in Willingham's room. The twins were in their room.

    Willingham listed other possible causes of the fire, including an electrical malfunction, an intruder who wanted them dead, or an oil lantern on a collapsing shelf.

    A state fire marshal who has since died and a local fire investigator ruled it was arson, that a liquid accelerant was ignited and the blaze was set in a way to keep anyone from reaching the children. Prosecutors arrested Willingham two weeks later.

    "It's all a farce," Willingham told the AP from death row.

    Years later, Innocence Project investigators and now Beyler, based on notes and photos from the scene, agree with him.

    Douglas Fogg stands by his conclusions as the former assistant fire chief who helped investigate the deadly blaze.

    "The bleeding hearts that are against the death penalty are trying to stir everything up again," he told The Dallas Morning News last month. "They finally got someone who would say what they wanted to hear."

    Other prosecution evidence was largely circumstantial: A county jail inmate said Willingham discussed his involvement in the fire and neighbors reported Willingham worried more about his car than the children as the house burned.

    Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor, said the multiple deaths not the arson made it a capital murder case. But he acknowledged that without an arson determination the capital conviction would have been difficult.

    "I'm not sure the evidence would have sustained a conviction from a legal standpoint if we hadn't been able to prove a fire of incendiary arson," he said.

    At trial, Willingham's wife, Stacy, testified for him during the punishment phase, denying he ever hurt her. Acquaintances, however, said she told them he'd beaten her several times, even while she was pregnant.

    On appeal, courts rejected Willingham's arguments that it was improper to allow hearsay bolstering prosecutors' contentions that the children impeded Willingham's lifestyle. He denied that.

    "They were great kids," he said from prison. "They were fantastic kids."

    Willingham acknowledged a rocky relationship with his wife, whom he married about two months before the fire and after they'd been living together for almost three years.

    "I cheated on her," he told the AP. "I was so full of myself and so dumb."

    His venom from the death chamber was aimed at her as she watched his execution.

    In the years following his conviction, she became convinced of his guilt, refused his request to testify for him at a clemency hearing, but did agree to his long-standing invitation to see him in prison about 2 1/2 weeks before he was scheduled to die.

    "It was hard for me to sit in front of him," she said, describing their meeting to the Corsicana Daily Sun a few days later in 2004 in her most recent public comments. "He basically took my life away from me. He took my kids away from me."

    Jackson said jurors who heard the prosecution's case got a more complete picture of Willingham and that the arson questions now raised are "wild speculation."

    "I'm pretty ambivalent when it comes to the death penalty," Jackson said. "I guess if it raises the question of the propriety of capital punishment, I think that's a good argument for people to have.

    "I'm not losing a whole lot of sleep."


    (This version CORRECTS Corrects year in graf 7 from 2007 to 2006. Meeting is 9:30 a.m. CDT, Oct. 2.)

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