Willingham family asks state for posthumous pardon

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 24, 2012 at 10:52 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 25 at 7:27 AM

AUSTIN -- Choking back tears, relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham insist he's innocent.

"His trial was a joke and he was railroaded to prison, where he spent 12 long years until being put to death," said step-mother Eugenia Willingham, who lives in Oklahoma. "I would like to be proud of the Willingham name again. I would like for Todd's name to be taken off the infamous list in his hometown."

"I have relieved many, many times the chilling words from a wrongly-convicted man who will tragically be executed in 55 minutes," said cousin Judy Cavnar. "Have you ever imagined in your life what it would be like to talk to a family member that you know is going to be killed in 55 minutes?"

A fire at Willingham's home in Corsicana in 1991 killed his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twin girls. A jury convicted Willingham of arson and murder, and the state executed him in 2004. Since then, nine separate forensic experts have argued the evidence used to convict Willingham was unreliable.

"Every one of them have come to the same solid conclusion, that this conviction was based on junk science," said attorney Gerald H. Goldstein of San Antonio. "That Todd Willingham is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted and executed."

Packed into a nine-pound, three-inch thick binder, the family delivered testimony and evidence to the state in a petition for a posthumous pardon. Not everyone agrees with the idea that Willingham was wrongfully convicted, including Willingham's ex-wife Stacy Kuykendall.

"My ex-husband murdered my daughters," Kuykendall said in October 2010. "Just before he was executed he told me he did it. He stood and watched while their tiny bodies burned."

"Willingham was a monster," Texas Governor Rick Perry told KVUE in October 2009.

Perry has long believed justice was served, pointing to the ruling of appelate courts that declined to overturn the conviction. The governor's office said Wednesday his views remain unchanged.

"Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that quite frankly you all aren't covering," Perry said in 2009.

"Governor Perry needs to step forward and pardon this man because he's innocent and give this family some relief," said Ernest Willis.

At Willis, 67, spent 17 years on death row for arson and murder, befriending Willingham before his own conviction was overturned.

"In the case of Todd Willingham, we actually do have blood on our hands," said Goldstein.

The family hopes for a hearing before the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole and possibly some changes.

"If we're going to utilize a process such as this to make these kinds of decisions, we have an obligation to make sure it's fair," said Goldstein. "That no one falls through the cracks, that we never make this kind of mistake and take the human life that we have again."

So far, the family's received no answer from the board. The expert testimony has already resulted in the reviews of 26 cases with similar evidence but there is no status yet as the result of those reviews.

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