Willingham arson case returning to court

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on September 27, 2010 at 11:01 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 27 at 11:03 PM

DALLAS — Attorneys for Todd Willingham's relatives convinced Judge Charles Baird of Austin to open a Court of Inquiry into whether the Corsicana man was wrongfully convicted and executed for setting a fire that killed his three daughters.

Gerald Goldstein, an attorney for Willingham's relatives, told News 8 that the legal team quietly submitted a 55-page petition to Judge Baird in Austin on Friday. After examining it over the weekend, the judge announced on Monday that he would open hear testimony next Wednesday and Thursday and decide whether Willingham was convicted on faulty forensics.

The Corsicana man was later put to death for the arson case.

The case started receiving publicity last year when the the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed to hear it. But it has barely budged after Gov. Rick Perry changed out members of the commission.

A week-and-a-half ago in Dallas, though, members of the panel bucked Perry's new Chairman — Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley — and decided not to close the case and clear arson investigators, but rather question them face-to-face at a future meeting.

Still, the commission is only considering the science used in the conviction —  not Willingham's guilt or innocence. That's something Judge Baird could do.

Whatever he decides is non-binding, and is perhaps symbolic more than anything. Regardless, it will be the first time a Texas court reopens and reconsiders what happened to Todd Willingham.

Goldstein said Willingham's family hopes the Court of Inquiry restores the condemned man's reputation.

Judge Baird is holding the review next Wednesday and Thursday in his Austin courtroom. He invited both sides to share arguments, although it's uncertain who will ultimately attend.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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