Fire Marshals Stand by Original Arson Report

Forensic Science Commission to make final decision on whether faulty science was used in Willingham investigation

The Texas Fire Marshal's Office is sticking to its story that arson was the cause of the Corsicana fire that in 1991 claimed the lives of Cameron Todd Willingham's three children. Willingham was convicted of and executed for the crime, which he maintained to the end he did not commit.

At the behest of the New York-based Innocence Project, Texas' Forensic Science Commission has been reviewing the Willingham case (as well as another arson case involving Ernest Willis, who was exonerated of arson-murder just months after Willingham was put to death). A handful of fire-science experts – including Craig Beyler, a Maryland-based expert who last year wrote a lengthy report on the case for the commission – have weighed in to say that the standards applied by fire investigators in the Willingham case were outdated and had likely caused them to conclude the fire was purposely set when in fact it might not have been.

At the commission's July meeting, the panel reviewing the case announced its conclusion that flawed science had been used but that none of the investigators had actually been negligent in using the outmoded investigative techniques. The commission said it would take additional feedback before considering its final disposition of the case, which is expected to happen this Friday, Sept. 17, at a specially called meeting in Dallas.

Texas State Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado was among those who responded to the commission's call for more information, writing in an Aug. 20 letter that in "reviewing documents and standards in place then and now, we stand by the original investigator's report and conclusions. ... Should any subsequent analysis be performed to test other theories and possibilities of the cause and origin of the fire, we will of course re-examine the report again." Moreover, Maldonado wrote that if the commission intends to make a finding that "flawed science" was used, "we respectfully ask that it be articulated" in its report.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Forensic Science Commission, Craig Beyler, Paul Maldonaldo, Texas State Fire Marshal's Office, arson, death penalty, Cameron Todd Willingham

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