Category: junk science

Frontline’s “Death by Fire” is superb television

The Frontline treatment of the Cameron Todd Willingham saga is gripping, balanced and provocative.  Don’t worry if you missed it; you can watch the entire program online.

Hour-long documentaries are frequently crammed with fluff and filler, but the Willingham case demands in-depth treatment to be understood and “Death by Fire” delivers.  Here are some of the conclusions: (more…)

“Death by Fire”: Frontline tackles the Willingham Case

Cameron Todd Willingham and Governor Rick Perry

The PBS program Frontline will be airing a program on the Cameron Todd Willingham story, “Death by Fire“, beginning October 19.  Click on the link to watch a 30 second promo.  I have pasted the text version of the teaser below.

Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Several controversial death penalty cases are currently under examination in Texas and in other states, but it’s the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham — convicted for the arson deaths of his three young children — that’s now at the center of the national debate.

In Death by Fire, FRONTLINE’s season premiere, airing Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE gains unique access to those closest to the Willingham case — meticulously examining the evidence used to convict Willingham, offering an in-depth portrait of those most impacted by the case, and exploring the explosive implications of the execution of a possibly innocent man. (more…)

Willingham review is put on hold

Cameron Todd Willingham with one of his daughters

A three-judge pane representing the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin has ordered Judge Charlie Baird to put an immediate stop to a hearing into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. 

Here’s the good news: Judge Baird’s hearing concluded just before the order arrived.

Now the bad news: Judge Baird will not be able to hand down a formal ruling until the stay is lifted. (more…)

Blackburn: Stop using ‘junk science’ in the courtroom

Jeff Blackburn

 

This opinion piece was published in the Houston Chronicle under the names of several authors, but the Amarillo Globe-News version simply mentions Jeff Blackburn, so I am assuming he is the author.   “Stop presenting ‘junk science’ in capital trials” Blackburn says.  You can find the heart of his argument pasted at the end of my remarks. 

The focus here is on Texas, but the problem is nationwide.  In the most recent Curtis Flowers trial, one ballistics expert testified that he could say with 100% certainty that the gun stolen from Doyle Simpson’s car was the murder weapon.  A second expert restricted himself to the obvious: the evidence didn’t lend itself to 100% certainty about anything.  All any competent ballistics expert could say for sure was that the evidence found at the crime scene was consistent with the .380 pistol allegedly stolen from Mr. Simpson’s car, but the shell casings could also have come from a similar weapon. 

Blackburn concentrates on expert witnesses who don’t know what they are talking about; but a lot of expert testimony is biased in favor of the prosecution because that’s where the money is.  Indigent defendants rarely have the money to hire their own experts and most capital defendants are indigent.  

In Blackburn’s opinion, the Cameron Todd Willingham case isn’t primarily about the execution of an innocent man; it’s about junk science. 

Do we really have to choose here? (more…)