Junk Science and the Execution of an Innocent Man
Paul C. Giannelli
Case Western Reserve University School of Law
New York University Journal of Law & Liberty, Vol. 7, No. 2 (2013)
Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-18
Cameron Todd Willingham was tried and executed for the arson deaths of his three little girls. The expert testimony offered against him to establish arson was junk science.
The case has since become infamous, the subject of an award-winning New Yorker article, numerous newspaper accounts, and several television shows. It also became enmeshed in the death penalty debate and the reelection of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who refused to grant a stay of execution after a noted arson expert submitted a report debunking the “science” offered at Willingham’s trial. The governor then attempted to derail an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission into the arson evidence presented at Willingham’s trial.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 35
Keywords: junk science, criminal law, arson, death penalty, wrongful conviction
JEL Classification: K14
Date posted: August 26, 2011 ; Last revised: November 9, 2014