We have written about the Cameron Todd Willingham case before. We devoted several chapters to it in Law & Disorder, out this month in paperback, and we revisited it in this column in March, when the story emerged that Willingham’s conviction for the arson murder of his three young children in Corsicana, Texas, in 1991 was largely supported by the testimony of a jailhouse snitch who later recanted his testimony. Retired judge and former prosecutor John H. Jackson has recently been called to task to account for the gulf between his contention that convicted robber Johnny Webb received no deal for his testimony and the mountain of paper and emails showing that Jackson repeatedly intervened to get Webb a knocked-down sentence, early release and special considerations in prison. Jackson claims that he was just trying to protect an inmate who was now in danger in prison for having cooperated with prosecutors.
To us, the reason this case is so important is because, like the trials of the West Memphis Three in Arkansas and Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in Perugia, Italy, it represents so much more than its individual circumstances and provides cautionary warnings of what should be avoided at all costs.
The watchword, in the Willingham case, is arrogance.