As the Texas Tribune points out, the long-awaited report from the Texas Forensic Science Commission on the Cameron Todd Willingham case doesn’t rule specifically on whether fire investigators were negligent in their duties. That question is being left to the state attorney general.
But, whether there was negligence or misconduct or whatever, the findings show that much of the scientific “evidence” cited during the trial that led to Willingham’s execution in 2004 was faulty:
For example, in the early 1990s, many fire investigators including those in the Willingham case relied on a so-called “V-pattern” on a wall to indicate the origin of a fire. “Scientists now know that the ‘V-pattern’ simply points to where something was burning at some stage of the fire, not necessarily the origin,” the report states. The report notes that other incendiary indicators once thought to conclusively demonstrate an arson – pour patterns, flashover indications, “low burn” and “deep burn” patterns, “spalling”, “crazed glass” and “burn intensity” – “are subject to numerous variables that require study and evaluation.”
Those of us who first really learned about the case from the New Yorker, are entirely unsurprised. The New Yorker spells out the conclusions, but this report implies the same bottom line.