Sen. Ellis Calls For New Investigation into Willingham Case

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(Austin, Texas) – Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today joined the family of Todd Willingham, Michael Morton, and Barry Scheck at a press conference to request a new investigation into the Willingham case and call for reform to Texas’ clemency system.

New evidence uncovered by the Innocence Project of New York raises additional, serious concerns about the testimony used to convict Todd Willingham of murder, eventually leading to his execution in 2004. Willingham’s family and Morton delivered a letter to Gov. Perry’s office requesting that he order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether Willingham should be posthumously pardoned.

“I hope Gov. Perry seriously considers the request for an investigation into this case in light of the new evidence,” said Ellis. “Texans need to be sure that the death penalty in our state ensures fairness, reduces the possibility of error, and preserves public confidence in the criminal justice system.”

Ellis also called for reforms to the state’s clemency system, which allows the Governor to extend mercy to a convicted individual.

“Unfortunately for the Willingham family, the Texas clemency process didn’t provide the ‘fail safe’ needed to ensure that credible claims of innocence get investigated,” said Ellis. “We can’t accept such a rush to judgment when dispensing the ultimate punishment.”

Current law gives the Governor authority to grant clemency upon written recommendation of a majority of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Clemency includes:

  • Full pardons after conviction;
  • Full pardons after successful completion of a term of deferred adjudication community supervision;
  • Conditional pardons;
  • Pardons based on innocence;
  • Commutations of sentence;
  • Emergency medical reprieves; and
  • Family medical reprieves.

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