At 6:20 p.m. on February 17, 2004, the state of Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana. His crime, per the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: "On December 23, 1991, Willingham poured a combustible liquid on the floor throughout his home and intentionally set the house on fire, resulting in the death of his three children." But in December 2004, the Chicago Tribune suggested otherwise: "According to four fire experts consulted by the Tribune, the original investigation was flawed and it is even possible the fire was accidental." Which is why, in part, in 2005 the state created the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which last week released a report that concluded "investigators ... relied on bad science, unproven theories and personal bias."
Today, The New York Times's editorial board weighs in on the results of the investigation: "The commission is to be commended for conducting this inquiry, but it is outrageous that Texas is conducting its careful, highly skilled investigation after Mr. Willingham has been executed, rather than before." And sure to garner considerable attention is this just-published piece in The New Yorker, which clocks in at more than 16,000 words. Toward the end, David Grann, author of the epic, writes this of the officially sanctioned investigation:
The commission is reviewing his findings, and plans to release its own report next year. Some legal scholars believe that the commission may narrowly assess the reliability of the scientific evidence. There is a chance, however, that Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the "execution of a legally and factually innocent person."
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