Family Members of the Wrongfully Convicted in Texas Seek Answers
The family of Cameron Todd Willingham is seeking a Court of Inquiry in Travis County, Texas, to repair Willingham’s reputation based on evidence showing that he was wrongfully convicted and executed. Willingham was convicted of arson and murder for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three children, and he was executed in 2004 although a prominent arson scientist notified the Board of Pardon and Parole and the Governor before his execution that the critical evidence in the case was incorrect and based on bad science.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for next week, but Willingham’s family isn’t the only one seeking answers about the improper forensics that led to a loved one’s wrongful conviction.
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that relatives of Tim Cole, who was posthumously pardoned in March, want City Council members and the Police Chief to discuss what led to Cole’s wrongful conviction at a community meeting later this month.
Cole was wrongfully convicted of rape more than two decades ago and died in prison in 1999 at the age of 39. He was cleared posthumously by DNA evidence in 2008.
“If the city of Lubbock really wanted to do the right thing, they would agree with us to have an open and public hearing in which all of the facts of the Cole hearing were examined and all of its implications understood,” chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas Jeff Blackburn said.
The family and lawyers who examined the case have blamed flawed eyewitness procedures and tunnel vision in the investigation by Lubbock police that narrowed in on Cole as a suspect, despite having the actual rapist in custody. The letter sent to city officials Wednesday said police framed Cole.
Holton, the police chief, supported the pursuit of a pardon for Cole earlier this year. But officials have said the procedures and practices that sent Cole to prison have long since changed, and rehashing the circumstances served no purpose but to build the foundation for a lawsuit.
The family has called for the Police Department to discuss and disclose how police settled on Cole as the family members push for investigative reforms to prevent the mistakes that sent him to jail. Members have lobbied the Legislature with the Innocence Project of Texas to change eyewitness procedures and other police actions common to wrongful convictions.
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