Saturday, April 06, 2019

Cameron Todd Willingham: Guilty By Forensic Science

Cameron Todd Willingham: Guilty By Forensic Science
Dudley Sharp

Many have, wrongly, presented that there is no forensic fire evidence supporting the arson/murders of three children by their father, Todd Willingham and that, therefore, we are looking at an innocent executed.

As is, so often, the case, nothing could be further from the truth (1).

The public defense of Todd Willingham is but another one sided review, by anti death penalty activists (1), so often, parroted by the media, with no fact checking, no vetting, no objectivity and no effort nor interest at looking at or presenting both sides of the case.

Let's look at the Texas Forensic Science Commissions (FSC) review of the Willingham case (2)

The FSC made 17 points for responsible forensics. The 17 points are quoted, exactly, as found within the report (2), below. Of those, 14 (1, 3, 6-17) were specific to forensic investigations with only one of those shown to have been, wrongly, assessed by the original Texas fire investigators, as detailed:

1) "For example, as NFPA 921 states in its discussion of origin determination, “ultimately, the decision as to the level of certainty in data collected in the investigation or of any hypothesis drawn from an analysis of the data rests with the investigator.” (NFPA 2008 edition at 18.6.2.) Reasonable minds can differ on interpretive issues, and disagreements will occur among forensic experts, including fire investigators. However, such disagreements must be based on a shared knowledge of modern fire science and the proper application of the scientific method as described in NFPA 921." (p 5)

Sharp: As detailed, below, none of the many conclusions, on the evidence for arson, with the exception of crazed glass, could be excluded from the assessments of the original Texas fire experts, who actually investigated the physical evidence and found for arson.

None of the later assessments, critical of the original investigation, 1) had access to the physical evidence from the fire, making their assessments, vastly, inferior to the actual investigators 2) properly evaluated (if at all) the critical eyewitness testimonies, inclusive of that of Todd Willingham, which are crucial for fire investigators and were, for the origianl investigators, and all but neglected by the critics, as was required. "Eyewitness interviews, while not typically scientific in nature, are a critical component of NFPA 921’s investigative guidelines." see paragraphs 6 & 17, below.

2) "In light of these jurisdictional questions and the related risk of litigation, the Commission voted at its January 21, 2011 quarterly meeting to obtain an official legal opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s Office. (See Exhibit 1 for copy of request.) The FSC anticipates that ambiguities and conflicts over jurisdictional issues will be addressed by the Attorney General’s office in its response to the pending request." (p 6)

Sharp: The original FSC broke the law in looking at both the Willingham and Willis cases, as both occurred before the specific dates given for the FSC jurisdiction.

The law and dates were very clear and it appears that the original FSC had no respect for the law, raising issues of confidence in the investigative body and one of the obvious, solid foundations for replacing some of the members of the Commission - they were, obviously, breaking the law.  As city attorney, Terry Jacobson,  stated, "100 out of 100 judges would rule that way". He is, absolutely, correct. It is that clear, as the Texas Attorney General confirmed.

There is zero ambiguity.

3) "Investigation has also revealed the practical difficulties of conducting a negligence review for a case in which there is a significant gap in time between the FSC’s consideration of the complaint and the point at which the original forensic analysis was conducted. Both fires occurred at least two decades ago. The substantial passage of time, limited record and the unavailability of at least one of the original fire investigators all add to the difficulty of conducting a thorough review." (p 7)

Sharp:  It is not just the "time gap", but the huge evidence gap. The original fire investigators are the only fire experts who examined the original fire evidence.

None of the critics did. Did any of the critics interview the original fire investigators, as they should have?

4) "No finding contained herein constitutes a comment upon the guilt or innocence of any individual. A final report by the FSC is not prima facie evidence of the information or findings contained in the report." (p 8)

Sharp: All of the evidence should be reviewed.

The FSC details how all but one of the fire forensic markers, as, originally, described by the two actual fire experts, that investigated the fire, may have all been accurate, in their finding for arson, as reviewed, below.

The case for arson is far stronger than any case against it.

5) "The information gathered has not been subjected to the standards for admission of evidence in a courtroom. For example, no individual testified under oath, was limited by either the Texas or Federal Rules of Evidence (e.g., against the admission of hearsay) or was subjected to formal cross-examination under the supervision of a judge. Therefore, this report does not serve as a document necessarily admissible in court for any civil or criminal purpose." (p 8)

Sharp: Sadly, none of those who testified were subject to any threat of perjury. That should change, as is obvious.


Rebuttal: "Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?"


6) "Eyewitness interviews, while not typically scientific in nature, are a critical component of NFPA 921’s investigative guidelines. For example, the 1995 edition of NFPA 921 provided guidance to investigators regarding the purpose of interviews (to gather both useful and accurate information). (NFPA 921 at 7-4.1.) "fire investigators will continuously be expected to interview eyewitnesses and assess their credibility. While eyewitness testimony plays a valuable role in the criminal justice system, it is a product of human memory, which has inherent limitations. Many Commissioners believe it is important to note these limitations and the associated need for ongoing training in methods for properly conducting and evaluating eyewitness interviews during arson investigations. Arson investigators should receive training in current techniques that encourage objectivity in witness interviews." (p 30-31)

Sharp: Overwhelmingly, the critical eyewitness testimony, inclusive of that by Todd Willingham,  pointed toward arson, which is a very big deal for forensic investigators, who find such testimony helpful and, often, crucial, as it was in this case, yet avoided, left out, discussed inaccurately or avoiding crucial witness statements, by the critical fire experts.

For example, fire expert Beyler was, completely, unaware that Willingham's two year old daughter, Amber,  was in bed with Todd Willingham when Willingham "became aware" of the fire, according to Willingham. Willingham just left Amber and the twins to die in the fire and made zero effort to save them, according to eyewitnesses, and, later, a fact which Willingham confirmed.

Willingham was seen going into the burning house,  to save property he wanted  . . . but, somehow, forgot the children.

The fire never entered the master bedroom, where Amber was, and there were multiple access points into that bedroom, without encountering the fire. Amber was rescued, alive, by firefighters, but died, later, of smoke inhalation.

Very obvious indicators of arson/murder by Willingham.

How Beyler was ignorant of this defines how poorly he investigated the case and how bad his report was. It also shows why eyewitness testimony is critical to forensics.

The FSC hired Beyler, giving Gov. Perry more solid reasons to replace some of the FSC personnel, after Beyler's inexcusable gaffs became known.

7) Regarding a child lighting the fire,  "This is the sort of judgment that fire investigators typically must engage in during the course of an investigation. Investigators would be required to make a similar judgment call today if the same facts were presented." (p 19)

Sharp: The original fire investigators properly assessed the probability of one of the children lighting the fire. That is not what happened.

8) Regarding debris, "Although the CFD informed the Commission that a thorough examination was conducted, the documentation provided to the District Attorney no longer exists." (cp 21).

Sharp: The fire experts reported saving all the debris for assessment, as per FSC  recommendations.

9) "Excerpts from fire scene reports and trial testimony, though inherently incomplete, provide a sense of the investigators’ understanding of incendiary indicators at the time of trial." " The question of when, why and how certain limitations should be applied to incendiary indicators is the subject of ongoing study by the fire science community." (p. 22)

Sharp: The original Texas fire experts, at the time of the Willingham investigation, state that they were, in fact, using all the best standards, at the time, as it is confirmed, they did.

Using today's standards, the remaining, living fire expert, involved in the original investigation, now a certified forensic fire expert, says, using today's standards, that the Willingham fire was arson.

10) Regarding V patterns, "While such a fire could have been started with an accelerant (see e.g., NFPA 921 1995 edition, 4-17.7.2) other phenomena of fire behavior can also cause similar pour-like patterns." (p 24)

Sharp:  Meaning that the original Texas fire experts could have been correct, as one, today, confirms they were, using today's standards.

11) Regarding the low points, for multiple sources of arson accelerant, "Low burn patterns may be an indicator of accelerant (Beyler at 8), but scientific experiments have also shown that radiant heat transfer causes low burn patterns (Id.), and that the radiant heat of a fully involved room fire can be sustained to penetrate floors deeply. (DeHaan at 8.)." (p 26)

Sharp:  Meaning that the original Texas fire experts could have been correct, as one, today, confirms they were, using today's standards.

12) Regarding spalling, " Controlled laboratory experiments have shown that while spalling may be caused by burning accelerant, it is more often caused by sustained heat from other sources. (Beyler at 11, DeHaan at 5.) (p 26-27)

Sharp:  Meaning that the original Texas fire experts could have been correct, as one, today, confirms they were, using today's standards.

13) Regarding "hot fires", "In the early 1990’s, the “widely held belief” among fire investigators was that the flames of a wood-fueled fire are cooler than those fueled by petroleum products. (DeHaan at 8.) Thus, investigators would often conclude that a “hot fire” must have had an accelerant ignition. (Id.) Scientists now know that flame temperatures for normal fuels against liquid fuels are similar, and compartment temperatures alone cannot be used to distinguish whether ordinary or liquid fuels were involved. (Beyler at 12, DeHaan at 4.) It is critical that today’s fire investigators understand the significance of flame temperature and heat release rates, and how these factors should be viewed within the context of other indicators." (p 27-28)

Sharp:  Meaning that the original Texas fire experts could have been correct, as one, today, confirms they were, using today's standards.

14) "Crazing is the result of the rapid cooling of glass in a hot environment by the application of water spray. (Id. citing NFPA 921 1992 at 4-13.1.) Fire scientists and investigators have concluded that it no longer has any value as an indicator." (p 28)

Sharp:  Meaning that the original Texas fire experts were in error in this assessment, the only assessment, finding for arson, that can be proven as false. Such provides no evidence that the fire was not arson.

This was established in 1992. The fire occurred in 1991, meaning their assessment was valid by the, then, current standard.

15) "The Commission observes that incendiary indicators, including but not limited to those discussed above, are subject to numerous variables that require continuous study and evaluation. Scientific understanding of the indicators has continued to advance as additional experiments are conducted." (p 28)

Sharp: An important point.

16)  "At the time these cases occurred, positive laboratory results (of accelerants)  were accepted if they were available, but they were not considered necessary to reach the conclusion that the fire involved intentional use of an accelerant. (Beyler at 13.) As technology advanced, fire scientists and investigators developed a better understanding of the importance of confirmatory testing. Experts have also noted that technology used in gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and other laboratory testing is more sensitive today than it was in the early 1990’s. As a result, laboratory tests are better able to detect evidence of accelerant than they were two decades ago. Due to the passage of time, re-testing of samples taken in the Willis and Willingham cases is not an option." (p 29)

Sharp: Unfortunate, as it appears an accelerant pattern may have been located in the twins bedroom, as described by the original investigators, admitted as evidence, and as, possibly, confessed to informant Webb by Willingham.

No one finds Webb a credible source. However, Webb's statement, that Willingham confessed to the killings, while they were incarcerated, together, had details, that no other source, but Willingham, could have provided, and were not known until later, that being the burn pattern in the twins room, as described by Willingham, according to Webb, likely, made by an accelerant, and the fact that Willingham made no effort to save his children, a fact, not confirmed by Willingham, to others, until later and to his parents, the day prior to his execution.

Willingham confessed to firefighters that they may find an accelerant at the site of the fire, as Willingham stated that he spread his cologne, which had an accelerant in it, in the childrens' room. This is a very obvious ploy by Willingham to provide a not so innocent case for accelerant, if an accelerant was detected, another indicator of Willingham's guilt of arson and murder.

17) "Eyewitness interviews, while not typically scientific in nature, are a critical component of NFPA 921’s investigative guidelines. For example, the 1995 edition of NFPA 921 provided guidance to investigators regarding the purpose of interviews (to gather both useful and accurate information). (NFPA 921 at 7-4.1.)" (30)

Sharp: In this case, the eyewitness statements are solid indicators of arson.


1)   The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy

Death Row Exoneration by DNA - Not

The 4.1% "Innocent" on Death Row: More Nonsense

and it goes on forever and forever