Relatives of a Texas man they believe was wrongfully executed appealed to state officials on Oct. 24 to posthumously pardon him.
The conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham for allegedly killing his three young daughters by burning down their Corsicana home in 1991 withstood numerous appeals in state and federal court, even as the evidence against him wobbled.
Willingham maintained his innocence as he was put to death by lethal injection in 2004. The petition filed by his stepmother and cousin on Wednesday with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in Austin fulfills a vow they made to disprove the verdict.
"Just because he's dead doesn't mean we can't clear his name. We made a commitment to him before he died. He asked us to clear his name and maybe it will help other people," Cameron's stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, told The Huffington Post. "It has now been eight years since he was wrongfully executed. The judicial system needs to be changed. We've been working on this for 20 years, so why quit now?"
Fire investigators testified at Willingham's 1992 trial that he lit the blaze which engulfed the family's home, killing a 2-year-old and 1-year-old twins. But current experts see the original arson investigation as little more than junk science.
"Since his trial, scientific advances have shattered every assumption underlying the testimony of the two fire investigators who declared to the jury and the court that Willingham set the fire that killed his children," the petition says.
The methods used by the original fire marshalls are no longer scientifically valid, according to a report from the Texas Forensic Science Commission issued last year.
A jailhouse snitch who recanted his testimony that Willingham confessed to the triple murder also contributed to growing doubts about Willingham's guilt.
Now, the reliability of evidence in other arson cases across Texas has been cast into doubt. The Innocence Project, a leading supporter of Willingham, identified several other convictions based on what are now seen as an illegitimate understanding of fire, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
The parole board is expected to take several months to review the pardon request, a spokesman told HuffPost. The seven member panel will then recommend that the governor either approve or reject the petition.
In 2011, the board didn't support approval of any of the 28 capital cases it reviewed in which there was a request for pardon, commuted sentence or reprieve from the death penalty.
If granted, it would be only the second pardon in Texas history issued after a convict's death. In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned Timothy Cole, who died in prison after serving 14 years for a rape he did not commit.
Gov. Perry's office did not respond to a request for comment. Willingham's ex-wife, Stacy Kuykendal, who said in 2010 that she believes he's guilty, could not be reached.
Willingham's family came tantalizingly close to exonerating him once before. The Huffington Post reported in May that the discredited arson evidence and snitch's retracted testimony swayed an Austin judge who planned to exonerate Willingham in 2010. But a higher court froze District Court Judge Charlie Baird, saying he lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
"For us, Todd’s family, death doesn’t end the responsibility to rectify injustice," said his cousin, Patricia Willingham Cox, according to a copy of her remarks provided by the family's attorneys. "Our passionate and relentless efforts to free Todd and clear his name has spanned twenty long mentally and emotionally challenging years; leaving us baffled and wondering how many more lie ahead."