The Willingham trial has become a sort of cause celebre by anti-death penalty proponents because it seems to be an example of outmoded scientific techniques which led to a miscarriage of justice. In fact, the trial testimony you reported in 1991 contains overwhelming evidence of guilt completely independent of the undeniably flawed forensic report.
Always omitted from any examination of the actual trial are the following facts:
1. The event which caused the three childrens' deaths was the third attempt by Todd Willingham to kill his children established by the evidence. He had attempted to abort both pregnancies by vicious attacks on his wife in which he beat and kicked his wife with the specific intent to trigger miscarriages;
2. The “well-established burns” suffered by Willingham were so superficial as to suggest that the same were self-inflicted in an attempt to divert suspicion from himself;
3. Blood-gas analysis at Navarro Regional Hospital shortly after the homicide revealed that Willingham had not inhaled any smoke, contrary to his statement which detailed “rescue attempts;”
4. Consistent with typical Navarro County death penalty practice, Willingham was offered the opportunity to eliminate himself as a suspect by polygraph examination. Such opportunity was rejected in the most vulgar and insulting manner;
5. Willingham was a serial wife abuser, both physically and emotionally. His violent nature was further established by evidence of his vicious attacks on animals which is common to violent sociopaths;
6. Witness statements established that Willingham was overheard whispering to his deceased older daughter at the funeral home, “You're not the one who was supposed to die.” (The origin of the fire occured in the infant twins bedroom) and;
7. Any escape or rescue route from the burning house was blocked by a refrigerator which had been pushed against the back door, requring any person attempting escape to run through the conflagration at the front of the house.
Co-counsel Alan Bristol and I offered Willingham the opportunity to enter a plea of guilty in return for a sentence of life imprisonment. Such offer was rejected in an obscene and potentially violent confrontation with his defense counsel.
The Willingham case was charged as a multiple child murder, and not an arson-murder to achieve capital status. I am convinced that in the absence of any arson testimony, the outcome of the trial would have been unchanged, a fact that did not escape the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. While anti-death penalty advocates can muster some remarkably good arguments, Todd Willingham should not be anyone's poster child.
I have all kinds of problems with the death penalty, but the more I dive into this case the more obvious it becomes that this guy was guilty as sin. Why people are taking his cause and leaping to all kinds of crazy conclusions is beyond me.