Willingham’s supposed confession

I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot about this in the coming weeks.

A newly released affidavit has a relative of the then-wife of Cameron Todd Willingham saying the condemned inmate confessed to her that he set the fire that killed their three daughters.

The statements from Ronnie Kuykendall are part of two affidavits released by the city of Corsicana in response to media requests.


The Corsicana Daily Sun reports Ronnie Kuykendall said that his sister, Stacy, on Feb. 8, 2004, called her family together to tell them about her last meeting with Willingham. Ronnie Kuykendall’s affidavit says his sibling cried as she said Willingham told her he had set the fire because he knew that she was going to leave him.

The print version of the Chron had a much longer version of the story, much of which appears here. In Googling around, though, I found this very different version of the story from the DMN.

Shortly before his execution, Cameron Todd Willingham reminded his former wife of his threat to “take away what’s most precious of hers” if she tried to leave him, a former brother-in-law said Thursday.

Tracy Kuykendall said his twin sister, Stacy, recounted the conversation with her ex to her family in February 2004. Kuykendall said he interpreted Willingham’s remarks as an admission that he set the fire that killed his three young daughters in 1991.

“He didn’t actually come out and say, ‘I killed the kids,’ ” Kuykendall said. “He had told Stacy during their time together, through the beatings and all, that if she ever left him that he would take what was most precious of hers, which was the kids.”

“He told her, ‘You remember what I always told you about what I would do if you ever left me?’ ” When his sister said yes, Kuykendall said, “he kind of made a note and said, ‘All right, there you go.’ They knew what was going on when that was said.”

Kuykendall said his sister had told him before the fire on Dec. 23, 1991, that she planned to leave Willingham after Christmas and take the children with her.

Different brother, different story. Obviously, I don’t know what exactly Willingham said to his former wife, but I’m not at all inclined to believe Ronnie Kuykendall. For one thing, his brother Tracy shows here that whatever Willingham might have said may well be subject to interpretation. He’s not around any more, so we can’t ask him if his recollection matches either of theirs. For another, as the DMN article and The Contrarian both point out, back in 2004 Stacy Kuykendall herself said that he did not confess.

Four days before the scheduled execution, [Willingham’s attorney Walter] Reaves attached [fire expert Gerald] Hurst’s report to a petition seeking relief from Texas’ highest court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and from the governor.

“I didn’t see any way the court was going to deny us a hearing on it,” Reaves said. “No one could in good conscience go forward with that evidence.”

The response from local prosecutors included a two-paragraph affidavit from Ronnie Kuykendall, the brother of Willingham’s former wife. He said that Stacy, who had divorced Willingham while he was on Death Row, had recently visited him, then gathered the family to say that he had confessed.

But she said in an interview that was untrue. At the time of the trial, she said she had believed in her husband’s innocence, but over the years, after studying the evidence and the trial testimony, she became convinced he was guilty.

In their final meeting, however, he did not confess, she told the Tribune.

So yeah, I’m not inclined to believe Cameron Willingham’s ex-brothers-in-law. And I hope that any followup stories on this remind people of that fact as well.

But even if Stacy Kuykendall now comes forward and changes her story from 2004, it doesn’t matter. It’s all a distraction. What matters, first and foremost, is that the “science” used to arrest, indict, convict, and ultimately execute Cameron Todd Willingham was crap. It has no basis in reality. And whatever you think of Willingham, the fact remains that there are many people in jail right now who were put there because of the same crap science that snared Willingham. We can argue all we want about the death penalty, and whether or not Rick Perry should have intervened when he got a copy of the Hurst report (assuming he ever actually read it; we may never know), but what are we going to do about these guys who are in prison right now for non-existent crimes? Those guys are feeling the consequences of Perry’s meddling with the Forensic Science Commission the most. Put aside everything else and ask, what are we going to do with them, and will we get around to doing it before one of them becomes the next Timothy Cole?

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