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Are_grits_groceries Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-06-09 06:31 PM
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Could there be hundreds of innocent people serving time in Texas prisons on faulty arson convictions?
The widespread problems with forensic arson evidence has become a national story lately thanks largely to the Cameron Todd Willingham case. (Willingham, executed in 2004, was likely innocent. If you're not familiar with the case, go here or here.)
Nearly 800 people are serving sentences in Texas prisons on arson convictions. How many might be innocent? Hard to know for sure. But there's evidence that points to a number in the hundreds.

Gerald Hurst -- the Austin-based fire and explosives expert who was the first fire scientist to raise questions about Willingham's conviction -- estimates that 30 to 50 percent of all arson cases could be flawed. In Texas, that would total 250 to 400 people.

I know what you're thinking: Could it really be that high? I was skeptical at first too.
In the past decade -- as the new truth about arson forensics penetrated the fire-investigation community -- the number of arsons in Texas has fallen more than 60 percent.
What explains that? Are there just fewer arsonists running around? Seems unlikely.

The more probable explanation is that, as the new understanding of fire science becomes more well known, investigators are getting it right more often. In other words, investigators are now correctly interpreting accidental fires that would have been ruled arson in years past.

Given those numbers, it's reasonable to conclude that 30 to 50 percent of all arson cases could be flawed.

That could mean hundreds of wrongly convicted prisoners. /

There are a lot of links at this site that detail the case against Todd Willingham. There are also links to articles that explain how a fire is determined to be arson. It has changed greatly.

I don't think Texas is the only state that has a problem because they are using old and discredited methods to determine arson. Texas has the distinction of executing a man who was probably innocent when new evidence was readily available. Governor Perry put Texas in the spotlight because he refused to consider the new interpretation of the Willingham arson case. He was sent info by many scientists, but he didn't even look at it. He also interfered with a commission set up to look at the case. Perry took some members off the commission, and generally took it apart.

Perry also has kept asserting what a monster Willingham was. Willingham committed some horrible crimes. However, to ignore evidence that would have exonerated him in the arson case because he was guilty in other incidents is a perversion of the justice system.
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