Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More on the Willingham case

Janet Jacobs of the Corsicana Daily Sun interviewed a number of people who took part in the trial of Cameron Todd Willingham ( Her article fails to mention the phenomenon of crazed glass, which was mistakenly used as evidence of arson. Indeed, her article fails to grapple with one of the main points of Mr. Grann’s piece, that the forensic science of arson is far more advanced than it was seventeen years ago. Despite twice mentioning Mr. Willingham’s moving his car and suggesting that it was evidence he cared for his car more than his children, Ms. Jacobs neglects to give Mr. Willingham’s own explanation, namely that he did not want the gasoline to exacerbate the fire. Ms. Jacobs does not discuss the role of psychiatrist James Grigson in labeling Mr. Willingham as a sociopath ( Yet she quotes Sergeant Hensley dismissing an arson expert’s opinion as something to be bought without delving into Mr. Grigson’s unethical behavior, for which he was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association. Indeed, most of the people whom Ms. Jacobs interviewed have an interest in portraying Mr. Willingham in the most unfavorable light possible.

Ms. Jacobs indicates that Mr. Willingham’s attorney, David Martin, only became convinced of Mr. Willingham’s guilt after the trial was over. How is this possible when the evidence (at least that with which I am familiar) produced after the trial was exculpatory? Mr. Martin goes on to call the Innocence Project an “absolute farce,” despite the Innocent Project’s having a role in releasing over one hundred people. A defense attorney who calls the Innocence Project a “bunch of hype” is a little bit like a chemist who asserts that there are four elements (earth, air, water, fire), and that the periodic table is a scam.

But equally problematic for me is the strong likelihood that Mr. Martin defended Mr. Willingham while believing him to be guilty. One might be tempted to say that when a lawyer believes his own client is guilty, it is damning. However, my previous blog entry ( gives an example of a lawyer who did not believe his client, and was unrepentant when later DNA evidence exonerated him. Did Mr. Willingham or Mr. Lloyd ( get the effective counsel to which they are entitled? I have to wonder.