It’s hard to get a conviction when there’s no evidence of a crime

The main bit of news in this AP story about the Todd Willingham case review is that the Texas Forensic Science Commission will be reviewing the Beyler report about the shoddy investigation of the fire on Friday. I hope, though the story doesn’t say, that this means it will be an open hearing at which the press, if not the public, will be in attendance. It’ll be valuable to get some idea of what the Commission thinks as we wait for their report next year. The most interesting bit of information in this story, however, is this admission from the prosecutor who helped to kill Willingham:

The prosecutor in the case still believes Willingham is guilty, but acknowledges it would have been hard to win a death sentence without the arson finding.


John Jackson, the prosecutor in Navarro County, about 50 miles south of Dallas, says the original fire investigation was “undeniably flawed,” based on subsequent reviews, but remains confident Willingham was guilty of killing Amber, 2, and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron.

“What people missed is that even though the arson report may be flawed, it certainly doesn’t mean it arrived at a faulty conclusion,” Jackson said.

“I’m an easy target,” he added, shaking his head over media reports on the case “about how we’re all a bunch of bozos.”


Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor, said the multiple deaths — not the arson — made it a capital murder case. But he acknowledged that without an arson determination the capital conviction would have been difficult.

“I’m not sure the evidence would have sustained a conviction from a legal standpoint if we hadn’t been able to prove a fire of incendiary arson,” he said.

I suppose I should feel some sympathy for the guy, who’s presumably trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he is directly responsible for putting an innocent man to death. But come on. What he’s saying here is the equivalent of “It might have been hard for us to get a conviction in that embezzlement case if the evidence showed that no money had actually gone missing.” Dude, if you knew then what you knew now you’d never have sought an indictment, much less a conviction. There was no crime. That’s what this is all about.

What I’d really like to know at this point is why he still clings to the idea that Willingham is guilty, given that he’s stumbling towards accepting the idea that there was no crime. I understand why Douglas Fogg, who was one of the investigators in the case, remains convinced of Willingham’s guilt – he seems to think that the whole Innocence Project investigation is some kind of liberal plot to, I don’t know, fluoridate his water or something. But Jackson strikes me as different, and I think over time he’ll come to see the light. Until then, I’d like to see reporters ask him why he still thinks Willingham is guilty. I feel like there’s something we can learn from that.

Related Posts:

This entry was posted in Crime and Punishment and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to It’s hard to get a conviction when there’s no evidence of a crime

  1. Scott Cobb says:

    Yes, it is an open meeting. An editorial in the DMN last week pointed out that the public will have an opportunity to make public comments to the Texas Forensic Science Commission at their meeting next Friday, Oct 2 in Irving.

    Friday, October 2, 2009
    8:30am – 10:30am
    Omni Mandalay Hotel
    221 E. Las Colinas Blvd.
    Irving, TX

  2. Scott Cobb says:

    I had the wrong time on the message above.

    Actually, the meeting starts at 9:30 and will probably go well into the afternoon.

  3. Pingback: Reschedule the meeting – Off the Kuff

Comments are closed.