Friday, February 13, 2004

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Media Advisory: Cameron Todd Willingham Scheduled For Execution

Austin – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott offers the following information about 35-year-old Cameron Todd Willingham, who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m. February 17, 2004. Willingham. a former auto mechanic, was sentenced to death for killing his three young children in the family’s house in Corsicana in December 1991.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

The opinion of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal summarized the offense as follows:

The evidence provided at the trial showed that 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. According to autopsy reports, Amber, age two, and twins Karmon and Kameron, age 1, died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of smoke inhalation. Neighbors of Willingham testified that as the house began smoldering, Willingham was “crouched down” in the front yard, and despite the neighbors’ pleas, refused to go into the house in any attempt to rescue the children. An expert witness for the State testified that the floors, front threshold, and front concrete porch were burned, which only occurs when an accelerant has been used to purposely burn these areas. The witness further testified that this igniting of the floors and thresholds is typically employed to impede firemen in their rescue attempts.

The testimony at trial demonstrates that Willingham neither showed remorse for his actions nor grieved the loss of his three children. Willingham’s neighbors testified that when the fire “blew out” the windows, Willingham “hollered about his car” and ran to move it away from the fire to avoid its being damaged. A fire fighter also testified that Willingham was upset that his dart board was burned. One of Willingham’s neighbors testified that the morning following the house fire, Christmas Eve, Willingham and his wife were at the burned house going through the debris while playing music and laughing.

CRIMINAL HISTORY/PUNISHMENT PHASE EVIDENCE

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals summarized the evidence presented during the punishment phase of Willingham’s trial as follows:

At the punishment phase of trial, testimony was presented that Willingham has a history of violence. He has been convicted of numerous felonies and misdemeanors, both as an adult and as a juvenile, and attempts at various forms of rehabilitation have proven unsuccessful.

The jury also heard evidence of Willingham’s character. Witnesses testified that Willingham was verbally and physically abusive toward his family, and that at one time he beat his pregnant wife in an effort to cause a miscarriage. A friend of Willingham’s testified that Willingham once bragged about brutally killing a dog. In fact, Willingham openly admitted to a fellow inmate that he purposely started this fire to conceal evidence that the children had been abused.

Dr. James Grigson testified for the state at punishment. According to his testimony, Willingham fits the profile of a sociopath whose conduct becomes more violent over time, and who lacks a conscience. Grigson explained that a person with this degree of sociopathy commonly has no regard for other people’s property or for other human beings. He expressed his opinion that an individual demonstrating this type of behavior can not be rehabilitated in any manner, and that such a person certainly poses a continuing threat to society.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has lawful and valid custody of Willingham pursuant to a judgment and sentence of the 13th Judicial District Court of Navarro County, Texas. On August 20, 1993, the jury found Willingham guilty of capital murder and, after a separate punishment phase hearing, the trial court imposed a sentence of death.

Willingham’s judgment and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari review on October 30, 1995. Willingham then filed a state writ of habeas corpus on which the trial court recommended denying relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied the writ of habeas corpus on the findings of the trial court. The U.S. Supreme court denied Willingham’s certiorari petition on June 8, 1998.

Willingham filed a federal writ of habeas corpus in the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division on April 21, 1998. The state filed an answer and motion for summary judgment on July 1, 1998, and filed a supplemental answer on October 15, 1998. On July 25, 2000, the federal magistrate issued findings and conclusions and recommended that relief be denied. Subsequently, the court adopted the magistrate’s findings, granted the state’s motion for summary judgment and denied Willingham’s petition for federal habeas relief.

Willingham subsequently filed an application for a certificate of appealability in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The application was denied on February 17, 2003. After the appellate court also denied Willingham’s motion for rehearing, he filed a timely petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court on July 21, 2003. The Supreme Court denied his petition for certiorari review on November 3, 2003.

MISCELLANEOUS

For additional information and statistics, please log onto the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, www.tdcj.state.tx.us.