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KVUE: Death penalty demonstrators march at State Capitol

06:15 AM CDT on Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hundreds rallied Saturday afternoon at the State Capitol as part of the 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. They came certain an innocent man was executed and called for an end to the death penalty.

The protesters drew attention to the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham. He was tried, convicted and in 2004 executed for setting a fire to his house, killing his three young daughters. Despite not having a clear motive, investigators accused him of arson. But a new report, commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, says the expert evidence was wrong.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a playwright and Willingham’s former pen pal, is convinced of his innocence and was instrumental in helping his family find a fire investigator to examine his case. She believes an innocent man was put to death.

“We executed a person who didn’t commit a crime,” she said. “I am hoping to bring attention that if one person is executed, that’s more than enough.”

Governor Perry has come under fire for replacing several members of a state commission just days before it was to hear a report on the science used to convict Willingham of arson. He has dismissed the criticism as anti-death penalty rhetoric. He says the panel will move forward with the investigation and maintains Willingham was guilty.

“Willingham was a monster,” said the Governor. “This was a guy who murdered hi s three children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so that he wouldn’t have those kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that, quite frankly, you all aren’t covering.”

There were counter-demonstrators at the rally.

Willingham’s mother, Eugenia, had been scheduled to speak at the rally but organizers said lawyers had advised her not to attend. In a written statement handed out by organizers, she wrote: “At this time, my primary concern is that the Texas Forensic Commission be given the opportunity to continue the investigation into Todd’s wrongful death.” She wrote about receiving letters of support from death row inmates, saying her son’s execution has caused appeals courts to take a closer look at their cases. This won’t bring Todd back, but I take comfort in knowing that others may be freed because of him.”

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Scott Cobb

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