In early March, the state bar of Texas filed a misconduct charge against a prosecutor who obtained a conviction in one of the country’s most controversial death penalty cases, accusing him of hiding evidence that could have exonerated a father of murder.
The filing alleges that prosecutor John Jackson withheld evidence that could have proved the innocence of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the murder of his three young daughters after they died in a house fire in 1991.
“Before, during, and after the 1992 trial, [Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham, and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel,” the charge reads.
According to the complaint, Jackson also lied to the court saying that he had no evidence that could help Willingham’s defense.
The charge also alleges that Jackson made multiple attempts to secure favorable treatment for Johnny Webb, an imprisoned informant who testified that Willingham started the fire. Jackson looked to reduce Webb’s charge from aggravated robbery to robbery as a reward for his testimony. But back in 2000, Webb recanted his testimony and admitted he lied on the witness stand so that he could get a reduced sentence.
Jackson has maintained his innocence and insists that Willingham, who was 23 at time of the incident, is guilty of committing arson.
From The Raw Story:
Despite mounting concern that Willingham was innocent, the former Texas governor Rick Perry refused to stay his execution. In 2009, after an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission found that the arson evidence was faulty, Perry replaced the board’s chairman and two other members and called Willingham “a monster.”
The execution was briefly a contentious topic during Perry’s bid for the Republican nomination for the 2012 US presidential election. During a debate, Perry was asked whether the possibility of having executed an innocent person made it hard for him to sleep at night. “No, sir, I’ve never struggled with that at all,” replied Perry, now a possible Republican presidential candidate again.
While in the Texas death chamber before receiving his lethal injection, Willingham said, “The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.”
Jackson could be disbarred if he’s found guilty.
Featured image courtesy of The New Yorker [This post has been updated]