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Another twist in the Jackson/Willingham case

Bill noted earlier the case of the State Bar of Texas pressing charges against the former prosecutor in the Willingham matter, and the Washington Post's astonishing publication of an article written by a partisan in the case without identifying him as such.

Now we have this article in the Corsicana Daily Sun.  This is the local paper for the scene of the crime (Navarro County, on I-45, the second county south of Dallas) and the most reliable source of objective reporting in the matter.  This article says it is "from staff and wire reports."

Evidently in Texas bar discipline cases are referred to county courts. 

The case has been assigned to Judge David A. Farr, a family court judge in Houston, but is expected to be heard in Navarro County. Jackson's attorney said he has requested a jury trial.

"We're very confident that when a jury sees this evidence, they will find that John Jackson has not done anything wrong," Byrne said.

Jury trial in a bar discipline matter?  Things are different in Texas.

Anyway, I am glad to see an aspect of the Willingham matter assigned to a tribunal where there is a shot at a fair hearing.  Previously, the Innocence Project tried to steer the matter to a judge leaning heavily in their favor, a proceeding I dubbed Charlie Baird's Circus.  Here is a post with links to a number of earlier posts on the subject.

Willingham's actual guilt is not the subject of the bar discipline matter, but perhaps will we get a useful airing and some factual findings out of it.


Decencyevolves: Yes, I know, the system never errs, or if it does, those errors are captured in time, which is why it's worth devoting a career to defending infliction of the death penalty on condemned inmates. Sometimes though, it does err, which can turn even hardened death penalty proponents into opponents. Here is a case in point:


1. I must have missed where Kent or I said, here or ever, that the system "never errs." Would you mind quoting that?

Oh, wait. You won't do that, since you concocted it. But you nonetheless speak in the name of, ya know, Very High-Minded Principles.

Far out, Decency!

2. Kent has devoted a career, at extremely low compensation given his level of legal and analytical talent, to defending a punishment approved of by the Constitution and the great majority of the American people. For this you upbraid him.

Tell me, Decency, how much income have you sacrificed from your law practice to fight for a principle you believe in?

No dodging. Let's hear it.

3. It's fitting that the prosecutor in the Louisiana case has taken some responsibility for his error. Of course, I see that he offers no compensation out of his own pocket, raising the question of how sincere all his present breast-beating is.

That the person he prosecuted turns out to be innocent (and I'm accepting here that that is the case) does absolutely nothing to support his statement that the DP is "barbaric." It's no more or less barbaric now than it was in 1984, and the legal protections surrounding it more demanding.

Flinging words like "barbaric" at the opposition is not just arrogant, it's nonsensical. For some ex-prosecutor -- or for you, now that I think of it -- to toss around that kind of stuff is worse than just stultifying self-congratulation; it's simply false. To say that those who differ with you on this subject are "barbaric" is to say that Washington, Lincoln and FDR, among others, were barbarians -- while you, of course, are far superior.

Do you even hear yourself?

4. If "barbaric" were suitable language for a civil debate, which it is not, it would more aptly be aimed at those who oppose the DP, knowing that the failure to impose it, ever, will result in the taking of a vastly greater number of innocent lives than its imposition.

1, 3 and 4. CJLF, and Kent for that matter, have a strong vested interest in claiming that errors about the guilt of condemned inmates are uniformly remedied prior to executions, particularly where the errors are uncovered while the inmates are still alive. That is why he makes the risible suggestion that in analyzing whether Cameron Todd Willingham should have been executed, the most objective and reliable source are not the investigators of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, but instead the citizens of Corsicana, who understandably insist to their local newspaper that they did nothing wrong--they got the right guy.

The forensic case against Willingham was really all there was, besides a jailhouse snitch with undisclosed deals and neighbors who insisted Willingham acted suspiciously at the time of the fire. His marriage was troubled and so was he, but we don't kill people for that in this country, at least the last time I checked. The New Yorker article recounted in minute detail how the witness accounts shifted after suspicion focused on Willingham, but apparently that isn't as trustworthy a source as The Corsicana Daily Sun. Why is that? Because if people think the Governor of Texas allowed Willingham to be executed as the forensic case against him was falling apart, they might have doubts about whether having the State kill inmates who could simply be housed for life is really worth it.

The anguished letter from the prosecutor to the Shreveport paper forms a stark contrast to this post. He was convinced that his overzealousness and the poor quality of Glenn Ford's representation conspired to put an innocent man on death row for thirty years. Ford's state appeal and habeas were denied, and given the track record of the federal courts in Louisiana, especially the Fifth Circuit, under the sows ear of legislation that is the AEDPA, I imagine Ford would have been executed quite shortly but for the timely intervention of the local DAs office. The prosecutor in question is the one who called the death penalty barbaric, so if you have a problem with that, take it up with him. He has a unique perspective, don't you think? The video attached to the story is evocative and well worth watching. Questioning his sincerity is pretty appalling.

2. Following my passions has cost me a tidy sum. At the beginning of my career, I left employment with a boutique litigation firm in the Bay Area that paid quite handsomely to work at a non profit representing the indigent in civil cases. After ten years of that, I went to a Wall Street firm briefly before deciding again that life was too short to spend it representing wealthy individuals and corporations in disputes with other wealthy individuals and corporations over deals that had failed to meet everyone's expectations. For the past two decades, I've represented condemned inmates challenging their convictions in state and federal court, which is not a road to wealth, I assure you. I don't regret at all the loss of material wealth that three decades of representing the poor in criminal and civil cases has entailed. I have worked with wonderful people and in my own view, and those of people close to me, have done much good.

-- First, I'll note what you DO NOT say. You make no attempt to defend the absurd straw man you started with, to wit, that Kent (or any other serious person) says that "the system never errs."

Not that you left it there. You went on to say, "... or if it does, those errors are captured in time."

Neither Kent nor I said that either; as I noted, you simply concocted it. Why not just 'fess up?

Of course, if anyone here HAD maintained such a thing, the very case you note would be evidence for it: The case concerns a defendant whose innocence was eventually established!

I trust you see the irony.

Not that irony is the main problem here. Falsehood -- attributing absurdities to the opposition -- is the problem.

You then go on to snicker at Kent, "... which is why it's worth devoting a career to defending infliction of the death penalty on condemned inmates."

That is nothing but ad hominem. The ad hominem might be justified if Kent were defending a plainly indefensible position -- for example, that Bush was in on 9/11.

But support for the death penalty is anything but indefensible. It is the view of an overwhelming majority of your countrymen, historically and now, and of the President, the Congress, and the Supreme Court.

It's nothing but pluperfect self-righteousness to pretend that Kent's work is unworthy of a serious person. You really should apologize. Better yet, you and the rest of the abolitionist crowd should dismount from your high horse and understand that the opposition is just as concerned with justice (not to mention considerably more successful) than you are.

-- Second, you now try to slip by with this: "CJLF, and Kent for that matter, have a strong vested interest in claiming that errors about the guilt of condemned inmates are uniformly remedied prior to executions..."

As an initial matter, you are not the spokesman for what is allegedly in your opponents' interest. Far more important, however, is that what (you maintain) is in Kent's interest to claim IS NOT WHAT HE ACTUALLY CLAIMS or has ever come close to claiming. Trying very quietly to conflate these two things to rescue your original misstatement is dishonest, as a man of your education could not help knowing.

I'm going to leave it at that for now, rather than get into the specifics of the Willingham case -- about which Kent and I have blogged extensively. I will say only that continuing to bellow "INNOCENT" does not make Willingham innocent any more than the same loud, persistent, belligerent -- and false -- bellowing made Roger Keith Coleman innocent.

Decency --

One further note.

You state: "That is why [Kent] makes the risible suggestion that in analyzing whether Cameron Todd Willingham should have been executed, the most objective and reliable source are not the investigators of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, but instead the citizens of Corsicana, who understandably insist to their local newspaper that they did nothing wrong--they got the right guy."

Kent made no claim that the most reliable source for the DETERMINATION whether Willingham was the right guy are the citizens of Corsicana. The claim is that the local news outlets are a more reliable source for REPORTS of what OTHERS have determined, which is very different from saying the local paper is reliable as the entity actually making the determination.

That entity spoke long ago. It was the trial and the reviewing courts. You know, things that are impartial and neutral, that aren't hired by those with one agenda or another, and that have rules like testimony under oath and cross examination.

The same people who tell us that the majority of the American people are "barbaric" (i.e., the repentant ex-prosecutor whose words you embrace and recommend) are also giving us a lecture about the New Revelations of Science -- as long as it's a science that lines up on the side they have pre-selected.

But even at that it does them no good, since the best expert the Willingham-Was-A-Martyr side can come up with admitted that, while he was strongly of the view the fatal fire was not arson, he could not entirely rule out arson. This is not to mention the other evidence of Willingham's guilt -- or the fact that both his lawyer and his wife have said he did it (the wife has flipped now and again; the lawyer never has, despite years of menacing by the abolitionist side).

Those who spent years lying about the supposed innocence of Roger Keith Coleman almost got away with selling the idea simply through persistent belligerence. Now the Todd Cameron Willingham crowd wants to repeat the same stunt.

Trials don't count, juries don't count, appellate courts don't count -- only the thing that counts are experts we come up with years and years after the fact.

I concede that this kind of aggressive mendacity almost worked with Coleman. But we learned our lesson.

Decencyevolve's reaction to this post is a little strange, given that the post itself is actually quite neutral with regard to the question of whether Willingham was actually guilty or innocent. I only said that I am hoping that the hearing of a related issue gets us a useful airing of evidence and some findings.

On the substance of that underlying question, I do not have time for a full rehash of the Willingham case right now. I will note that DE appears to be of the view that David Grann's article is a reliable source. I have already demonstrated that Grann is a propagandist. Anyone who reads his article and thinks that is a complete picture is seriously mistaken.


As I noted in my post this afternoon about the culture of lies, our adversaries simply do not see a problem in citing their own propagandists as Holy Writ, and walking away from the truth when it finally gets a voice.

It is a huge problem, in the debates featured on this blog and in the culture, that lying, misleading and dodging have fewer and fewer consequences.

Grann noted that : "Willingham who was unfaithful, drank too much Jack Daniel’s, and sometimes hit Stacy—even when she was pregnant. A neighbor said that he once heard Willingham yell at her, 'Get up, bitch, and I’ll hit you again.'" http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/09/07/trial-by-fire

Still, he didn't note that Willingham swore at his ex-wife Stacy as he was being executed, after she changed from saying she believed he was not guilty to believing he was guilty. Therefore, Grann's entire article is just propaganda
that can be discounted. I've read the article and I think your readers should too, and I am unpersuaded.

I haven't seen anything that suggests that Willingham could have been convicted absent a forensic case that can't withstand serious scrutiny. It has been severely undermined by investigation after investigation and report after report. Even the former prosecutor now under ethics charges admits that the forensic case was severely flawed.

What else is left, besides the implausible testimony of a jailhouse snitch whose interactions with Jackson are now the subject of Jackson's jury trial on ethic charges? What else besides the fact that Willingham was a man with a criminal record who abused his spouse, shifting accounts and surmises by his neighbors of his actions during the night of the crime, and statements of Willingham's which, while often inaccurate, were far from inculpatory?

Are you comfortable with the fact that the Parole Board and Perry sent Willingham to his death after receiving notice of the severe flaws in the forensic case against him? Nothing I've seen from either of you suggests that you are uncomfortable with those decisions, but I haven't canvassed your posts thoroughly so I may be missing something.

Perhaps, instead, you two are interested in vindicating the statement, made by Justice Scalia in his concurrence in Kansas v. Marsh, that in the modern judicial system, there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops." If so, perhaps your objectivity, rather than Grann's, are the ones that are open to question.

"Swore" is not an accurate characterization of Willingham's exceptionally vile last words, and Grann's disclosure of an earlier event is utterly beside the point. As explained in the earlier post, Grann's intentional deception of the readers regarding that final scene, while minor in the overall facts of the case, is smoking-gun proof that the purpose of the article is to persuade, not to inform, and that Grann is not above misrepresentation by omission to achieve that goal.

I have previously criticized the Texas Parole Board for the way it handles these cases, and if it makes you feel better, no, I am not comfortable with the way they handled this one.

This blog some time back linked to an article on the jurors' statements regarding the evidence that convinced them in the first place and still does -- neither expert nor informant. The link no longer works -- not unusual for newspaper links in old posts -- but I will search for a live one when I have time. But that was not the point of this post, so we're done here.

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