Imagine for a moment, the smoke filled screams of a young child unable to cross a wall of fire. The terror of a house in collapse, as smoke obscures your vision and your skin begins to broil. Your hands are too small to reach over the flames and open the door.
It doesn’t matter – the knob is so hot it burns the fingerprints off the tip of your hands. Flames become the furnish of the room as the small space left where you stand slowly singes and turns black. Imagine yourself, an eight-year-old child, faced with the inevitability of your own death. Your last thoughts, tinged with the unimaginable pain of fire engulfing your entire body.
Enter Cameron Todd Willingham and the state of Texas. Mr. Willingham was convicted of murder and executed for the death of his three children by arson. This lowly, bastardized example of the deepest depths of human evil stood outside as his children slowly cooked from the fires of his own making. He killed them. He planned it. He allowed his flesh and blood to char, ending any hope of a world filled with the love, hope and misadventures of Amber, Karmon and Kameron Willingham. This man deserved to die. If only we could put him to death twice more to vindicate the loss of such life.
I hope you hate him. I hope you agree this kind of creature deserves no recourse.
Also, he didn’t do it.
One of the most contested parts of our legal system is the death penalty. This article isn’t about taking either side. Rather, I would like to specify the moral fibers connecting opposing viewpoints.
Some want to abolish the death penalty. Some may advocate its continued use, but everyone agrees no man should be put to death for a crime he did not commit. A hundred men condemned for crimes of heinous and immoral magnitude does not equal one man unjustly prosecuted and killed.
How does Governor Rick Perry slink into this situation? Perry has found an upsurge of support in recent months. Scrutiny has come with his popularity.
One of the most notable problems tends to be his Biblical fervor, which is so intense it leans into realms of outright stupidity. No, I can’t blame the Bible for the misgivings of a man. This overall structure of anti-science and black and white moral politics advocated by Perry is a monster of his own creation.
Willingham had been on death row for several years since his prosecution. Few were willing to take up the case of a convicted murderer with such an airtight case. Airtight, as in recanted statement by several witnesses, key testimony goaded from an unreliable prison informant, and forensic science proving (without doubt) Willingham had not caused the fire that killed his children.
When forensic evidence was introduced days before his execution, Willingham was denied a postponement of execution to bring the new evidence to light by Gov. Rick Perry. He was also denied clemency outright. Willingham was executed on February 17, 2004.
On October 2, 2009, the Texas Forensic Science Commission re-opened the case after persistent questions were raised. Before the meeting was held, Gov. Rick Perry fired the head of the commission, postponing the investigation indefinitely.
Rick Perry (along with his office) completely ignored forensic evidence acquitting Willingham. He has since swept this under the table now that he is a presidential candidate. This isn’t about the pros and cons of the death penalty. I don’t care. This is about an elected official pushing a man to his death and covering it up.
There were no mixed messages. No misunderstanding of evidence. New forensic evidence was found that freed Willingham of guilt. Gov. Rick Perry ignored it.
If a government tells a man to kill a man, it’s patriotism. If a man tells men to kill other men, it’s a revolution. If a man just kills a man, it’s murder.
Where does this leave our elected officials when their actions directly lead to the death of the innocent?
Xavier Burgin is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary studies and film production. His column runs biweekly on Thursdays.