Report of the Innocence Project Arson Review Committee3
12Neither the fire that killed the three Willingham children nor the fire that killed Elizabeth Grace3Belue and Gail Joe Allison were incendiary fires. The artifacts examined and relied upon by the4fire investigators in both cases are the kind of artifacts routinely created by accidental fires that5progress beyond flashover.67The State’s expert witnesses in both cases relied on interpretations of “indicators” that they were8taught constituted evidence of arson. While we have no doubt that these witnesses believed what9they were saying, each and every one of the indicators relied upon have since been scientifically10proven to be invalid.1112To the extent that there are still investigators in Texas and elsewhere, who interpret low burning,13irregular fire patterns and collapsed furniture springs as indicators of incendiary fires, there will14continue to be serious miscarriages of justice.1516Continuous (and in some cases, remedial) training and professional development of fire17investigators is required. Additionally, participants in the justice system need to become better18educated, and more skeptical of opinion testimony for which there is no scientific support, and19need to ensure that defendants in arson cases are afforded the opportunity to retain independent20experts to evaluate charges that a fire was incendiary.2122In the cases of individuals already convicted using what is now known to be bad science (or no23science), the Courts should treat the “new” knowledge as “newly discovered evidence.” It was24resistance to this concept that allowed the State to execute Mr. Willingham, even though it was25known that the evidence used to convict him was invalid.262728
2930The undersigned fire investigators have been requested by the Innocence Project to examine the31outcomes of two Texas arson convictions, those of Cameron Todd Willingham and Ernest Ray32Willis.
The Willis fire occurred in Iraan, Texas, on June 11, 1986, and the Willingham fire33occurred in Corsicana, Texas on December 23, 1991. Both cases reached their ultimate34conclusion in 2004. On February 17, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by lethal35injection. On October 6, Mr. Willis was freed from the same facility where Mr. Willingham was36executed.3738Fire is governed by the laws of physics. In order to reach valid determinations, therefore, the39investigation of fires must follow the Scientific Method as all other physical science40investigations do. After a review of the scientific basis for the determination of arson, the41prosecutors in the Willis case acknowledged that his conviction was based on faulty science and42unreliable indicators of arson. Even though, for all practical purposes, the interpretations of the43physical evidence as testified to in the Willis trial were the same in the Willingham trial and after44
None of the authors have received any compensation for this
o review, nor will any compensation beaccepted.