An arson expert hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission has issued a report that says there was no basis for a conclusion that arson caused the 1991 fire. He said the blaze that killed the three children may have been accidentally set.
“I have been persecuted 12 years for something I didn’t do,” were Willingham’s last words.
His case epitomizes why capital punishment must end. Even if it happens only once, that’s too often when the result might be the execution of an innocent person.
Davis received a last-minute reprieve last month, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered his case reheard to consider new evidence that might clear him. It was the first time in half a century that the high court took such a step.
“The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing,” said Justice John Paul Stevens in the majority opinion.
Until the Supreme Court’s ruling, lower federal and state courts had repeatedly denied Davis’ appeal for a new trial.
Georgia prosecutors maintain they convicted the right person. But they have presented neither physical evidence nor a weapon linking Davis to the crime. And seven of the nine witnesses who testified that Davis was the killer have since either recanted or changed their stories.
Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are among those who have called for clemency for Davis.
States such as Pennsylvania, which remain committed to the death penalty, should take note.
Davis’ and Willingham’s cases again raise strong questions about capital punishment and whether it can ever be fairly administered, especially when the defendant is poor or a minority, like Davis, and statistically more likely to get a death sentence.
Two men sent to Pennsylvania’s death row were later exonerated. The risk of a wrongful execution is simply too great to continue with capital punishment.