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Willingham Developments

Steven Kreytak reports in the Austin American-Statesman, "Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson has filed a motion asking for Judge Charlie Baird's recusal from tomorrow's planned court inquiry into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three young daughters."

"Thompson also noted that the statute of limitations for official oppression, the crime the petition alleges was committed by unnamed state officials, has expired."  The procedure being invoked here, the court of inquiry, is only for the purpose of determining if there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and, if so, initiate a prosecution.  Absent a prosecutable offense, there is no reason for the proceeding.

Another nugget: "Thompson's motion also noted that earlier this year Baird received the Courage Award from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, another factor that could call into question his ability to be impartial."

Jeff Carlton of AP has this brief story on the motion.

Also, at the DMN's blog, Michael Landauer has this post on CJLF's press release.

The prior post on this case is here.

Update: A revised version of Kreytak's story is here. Janet Jacobs has this story in the Corsicana Daily Sun, the local paper of the scene of the crime.


If Baird sits on this case, it will show that the abolitionist side is corrupt as well as dishonest.

Still, I'm conflicted as to whether I want him to sit or not. If an appeal can be taken from a court of inquiry (can it?), this one ought to be a peach. Any ruling he would make will be so obviously pre-judged that a court of appeals opinion could be worth more to the retentionist side that his lower court opinion will be worth to the abolitionists.

Every time abolitionism opens its mouth, it just creates more trouble for itself, as it spent a decade proving with Roger Keith Coleman.

I don't think you can draw conclusions about the "abolitionist side" based on what Judge Baird does. I think there is a principled position to oppose the death penalty, and some abolitionists don't resort to the sophistry of Richard Dieter or the out and out misrepresentation that we saw in the Roger Keith Coleman case. Additionally, I don't find most abolitionists nearly as irksome as judges who bend over backwards to find reasons for stays (see, e.g., Judge Friot in Oklahoma).

I think those of us who strongly support capital punishment (and serious punishment in general for serious crime) need to always be open to fair-minded inquiries about whether the system got it right. We should not be afraid of rigorous testing of evidence in these cases so that there are lessons learned and so that we improve the system's ability to get the right guy. What we need to guard against are specious arguments that simply because the scientific evidence against one guy wasn't as strong as it was presented at the time of the trial means necessarily that there was a bad outcome. There is a lot of evidence, conveniently forgotten, in the Willingham case that doesn't get talked about in the coverage. I think our time is better spent pointing these issues out.

Willingham may be a poster child for sloppy science--he doesn't appear to be a poster child for innocent and executed.


You make a good point. I was in error in attributing to abolitionists generally the corruption of Baird sitting on this particular case. I appreciate your correcting me.

I would add to what you say, however, and perhaps modify it. In general, no one could doubt that inquiring into the truth is a desirable end, let the chips fall where they may. The problem is, as ever, what comes along with it.

In this Willingham case, what Baird will find to be the "truth" is very likely to be skewed by his prejudice, and thus unreliable. What do you think the chances are, though, that its flaws, ideological and otherwise, will be exposed by the press, or exposed at all? It will be Coleman redux.

The other problem is that, lost in the din, there remains the question whether, assuming Willingham was innocent, that means the DP has to go. No serious DP advocate doubts the possibility that an innocent person has been or in the future may be executed; the DP is still a human institution. Retentionists acknowledge this from the getgo.

The quesiton whether the DP is nonetheless worth the candle devolves, in part, on the question whether MORE innocent life is lost with it or without it. Assuming that Willingham was innocent, it will remain the case that, as the great majority of modern scholarship attests, the DP saves vastly more innocent life than it takes.

The problem is that abolitionists are so full of self-congratulatory breast beating that they, and their numerous allies in the press, simply will not acknowldege that the question is not one of purity but of real world alternatives. You've seen it yourself. You ask them about the scholarship and their ONLY response is to say that it's been "subject to criticism." Of course so is the theory that the earth is round.

The bright side is that, even though the Left will own the megaphone post-Willingham (as it always seems to own the megaphone), the public isn't fooled. A majority already believes the (almost certainly false) proposition that an innocent person has been executed in the last five years, but still, by an even greater majority, supports capital punishment.

"The problem is, as ever, what comes along with it."

Yep, and it's our job to fight that. Whenever you see a slanted piece of journalism, email the author. Every once in a while, they do listen.

You're absolutely right. Specifically, I've made a point of writing to journalists who fail to point out that the Death Penalty Information Center is an abolitionist organization despite its deceptively neutral-sounding name (and DPIC director Richard Dieter seemingly never volunteers the information that the DPIC is abolitionist). Surprisingly, some of the reporters to whom I've written have actually agreed to identify the DPIC as an anti-capital punishment group in the future. Also, I wonder whether Ken asked Mr. Dieter about this issue when they shared a panel in Louisville recently.

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