JailWhether or not you're for the death sentence, I think we can all agree that executing an innocent person is beyond the pale. Unfortunately, there's a chance that's happened in the modern age. New evidence has surfaced suggesting that a dad who was convicted and executed for murdering his three young daughters may not have killed them after all.

In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death in Texas for "burning his three children to death in a fire." He was sentenced in 1992, based on arson analysis, and testimony from a jailhouse informant, who claimed Willingham had confessed the crime to him. He maintained his innocence until the day he died by lethal injection.

It looks like there may be evidence that prison informer Johnny E. Webb was coerced to lie on the witness stand in exchange for leniency for his own crimes.

This has been a contentious case for awhile, with experts questioning the science used to investigate the Corsicana, Texas, house fire that killed Willingham's three children.

So ... there were already questions about how the fire started, and now there are apparently tapes of Webb admitting he ied on the witness stand, along with "newly uncovered letters and court files" showing that prosecutor John Jackson spent years after the testimony speeding his parole along, getting him clemency, and moving him from a rough state prison to his "hometown jail."

Of course Jackson maintained that he was only offering help to Webb because he thought he was being threatened by other prisoners for being a snitch, but it was enough that many believe Willingham could've sought a retrial if the favorable treatment had been exposed before the execution.

It is impossible to know what really happened the night those little girls were killed in that fire, but reports like this highlight the importance of relying on cold, hard facts when dealing with capital punishment. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously inaccurate, and as such, should not be a major factor when considering putting someone to death. And this wasn't even an eyewitness account! It was someone testifying that the guy had admitted to the murders in prison.

It's very possible that Willingham did start that fire, and justice was served, but if there was a chance it wasn't him, or it was an accident, then this is a tragedy beyond tragedies. The death sentence should never, ever be handed out because someone said someone else did something, or confessed to something. People are people, and believe it or not, they sometimes lie.

Capital punishment should only be carried out when the hard evidence shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone is guilty of a heinous crime.


Do you think the death sentence should ever be enforced?

 

Image via Jenn Vargas/Flickr