AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – A state appeals court has halted a hearing into whether a North Texas man was wrongly executed. The 3rd Court of Appeals ordered state District Judge Charlie Baird to not rule on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. The order comes at the end of a day of testimony.
Willingham was convicted, and later executed, for setting his Corsicana house on fire in 1991, killing his three young daughters.
Two fire experts said that the fire was an accident, not arson. That is what Eugenia Willingham said that she has always thought. She was in court on Thursday, and has been trying to clear her stepson’s name.
“It’s been 18 years and I still feel the raw pain of that day,” said Willingham, holding back tears.
At the heart of the case has been the arson finding which led to Willingham’s conviction. Several fire experts have found fault in the finding. “What I have seen, that the fire marshal put forward as evidence of arson, is not evidence of arson,” said arson expert John Lentini, on the stand.
Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson said that he is interested in the case because Willingham was convicted in his county. According to Thompson, Baird is biased since he ruled on Willingham’s case as a member of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and he recently got an award from a group against the death penalty.
Thomspon stormed out of the courtroom on Thursday to file the motion which has now halted the hearing.
Last week, Willingham’s ex-wife said that he confessed to her about burning down their home and killing their daughters. “He admitted he burned them to me, and he was convicted for his crime,” said Stacy Kuykendall.
Willingham’s stepmom does not believe Kuykendall’s story. “I was the last person to talk to Todd. He asked me not to give up the fight and try to help other people in prison for arson,” explained Willingham.
After 18 years, as she tries to restore his name, Willingham said that she finds comfort in knowing the truth. “He did not confess to her. I don’t know what her motive is, but that is not true,” Willingham said.
Right before the hearing, Baird had recessed, saying that he wanted to look at all the facts and see what Thompson’s motion would include. If Willingham is cleared, it would be the first time an official in the nation’s most active death penalty state has formally declared that someone was wrongfully executed.