October 15th, 2009
09:40 PM ET

A juror's doubts

Program Note: Randi Kaye is Keeping them Honest with more details tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Randi Kaye | BIO
AC360° Anchor

It all started in 1991 just days before Christmas in the small town of Corsicana, Texas.

Cameron Todd Willingham was home alone with his three little girls when the house caught on fire. All three children died and Willingham got out with just some minor burns. He was convicted of "arson homicide" and sentenced to death for setting the fire while his wife was out shopping for Christmas presents.

I've covered this case for years now for AC360° and there are still so many unanswered questions.

Top of the list: "Was an innocent man executed?" And now, is Texas Governor Rick Perry trying to cover up evidence that would show he was innocent? Willingham died by lethal injection February 17, 2004, after Texas Governor Rick Perry refused to grant him a stay even though new evidence had come to light that the fire was not arson! Mr. Perry is now in a heated re-election campaign.

Willingham's stepmother, Eugena Willingham, told me she visited her son on death row every six weeks for 12 years. She always believed in her son's innocence. I remember discussing the case over iced tea and homemade cookies in her Ardmore, Oklahoma home. She's a sweet woman with a Texas-sized heart.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/10/11/texas.execution.probe/art.willingham.family.jpg caption="A family photo shows Cameron Todd Willingham with his wife, Stacy, and daughters Kameron, Amber and Karmon."]

We sat in her kitchen a couple years ago, when I first interviewed her for a story on AC360°, and she showed me the family photo album. So many pictures of her son Todd and her granddaughters. She told me, "Todd called them his babies." She spread his ashes over their graves.

For weeks, Governor Perry has been facing criticism for suddenly removing four members of a state commission which had set out to determine once and for all if Todd Willingham was innocent when he died.

This replacement of four members of the commission that had already been working on the case means the state's work on the case is delayed, and maybe even derailed for good. The findings were supposed to be released just weeks before the Texas Republican Primary vote.

One person watching this case with eyes wide open now is Dorenda Lynn Brokofsky. She was on the jury in the Willingham arson trial back in 1992 and she told me today, she hasn't slept very much since. All these years later, Brokofsky wonders if Willingham was innocent, even though she decided along with the others at the time that he was guilty.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/09/30/texas.execution.probe/art.rick.perry.gi.jpg caption="Gov. Rick Perry's office said the moves were a routine replacement of members whose terms had expired."]

We spoke by phone from her home in the midwest, where she moved after leaving Corsicana, where the fire took place. She dropped a couple of bombshells that left many of us here at AC360° shaking our heads.

She told me, "My dad was a fire marshall for eight years in Corsicana." He wasn't the fire marshall at the time of the Willingham fire, but she had a connection. And get this, she said her family was "good friends" with Douglas Fogg. Fogg was the deputy fire marshall and a key witness in the case. Fogg’s determination that the fire was arson really helped send Willingham to death row.

I interviewed Douglas Fogg years ago about this case and he told me he still stands by his findings and believes Willingham set the fire. I asked him if he's at all concerned he may have sent an innocent man to his death? He said, simply, "No."

But back to the juror who knew Investigator Fogg. How could prosecutors, the judge, and even the defense, let a woman on the jury who was "good friends" with a key witness for the prosecution and the deputy investigator? Wouldn't that be a mistrial? Too late for Todd Willingham now, but the juror told me, "I told them I knew Mr. Fogg but they didn't care."

To this day, Brokofsky isn't sure Willingham was guilty. "When you're sitting there with all those facts, there was nothing else we could see. Now I don't know. I can't tell you he's innocent, I can't say 100 percent he's guilty," Dorenda said.

"I don't sleep at night because of a lot of this,” she told me. “I have gone back and forth in my mind trying to think of anything that we missed. I don't like the fact that years later someone is saying maybe we made a mistake. That the facts aren't what they could've been."

Brokofsky said, "I've got to stand in front of my God one day and explain what I did."

To be fair, Todd Willingham wasn't perfect. He had a history and was known around town for domestic disputes with his wife. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has always said there was "overwhelming" evidence Willingham was guilty, just yesterday called him a "monster" and said he had tried to beat his wife into having an abortion, suggesting Willingham did not want the children. Willingham's stepmother told me they did fight, but she "never saw any bruises on his wife."

When I told the juror that arson science has changed over the years and that at least half a dozen arson experts now say the fire was not arson and not intentionally set, Brokofsky got so upset she had to get off the phone. She said she needed some time to "process this."

Imagine, wondering all your life, if you sent an innocent man to the death chamber?

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Danny

    This is a drawback of our judicial system. You cannot always correct final judgements after the fact. It would have been easier to deal with, had we been playing with an honest group. I say group simply because this act was not done by one person. We all had a hand in this even we don't even live in the state.

    October 15, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  2. Lori

    I believe the Texas Ranger. The guy was guilty!

    October 15, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  3. Tracey

    Wow, the only one sure that this guy was guilty was his defense attorney?! If twelve arson investigators have come forward to say it wasn't arson, then why is this guy convinced he's right.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:52 pm |
  4. Robert Sizemore

    I cannot believe that his defense attorney is called a defense attorney. He talks as if he was the prosecutor, what happened to presumption of innocence? Guilty or not, it was a miscarriage of justice, period.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:51 pm |
  5. Chad

    If David Martin acted the same way tonight as he did at the trial, it's no wonder he lost.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  6. Diane

    Unbelievable! I just saw Anderson interview the guy's "Defence" attorney. I don't know if this man is guilty or not but the cards were stacked against him to have an attorney who clearly detests him.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  7. jennifer h

    After several dealings with law reinforcement in my community, I can completely believe that this man may have been truly innocent.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  8. Joey Figs Orl Fl

    I am not surprised at all this happens in Texas. I knew about cases with innocent African Americans in jail for crimes they never commited; thanks to DNA results. Forensics can be at fault. And they could have been covered. Who is to blame? Time will tell; like always.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  9. Doug Young

    It's too bad the lawyer didn't defend his client as vigorously as he defended himself.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  10. Steven S

    Arson investigation, from my limited knowledge, is as much of an art as a science. Execept of course in the area of trace element identification, I would have to say it has changed little, at least in the experience of the most qualified of investigators.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:42 pm |
  11. Gsnoop.org

    We would never, ever have to wonder if an innocent man was executed if there was no death penalty

    October 15, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  12. thekitchenshoppe

    Governor Perry is a person who works the system to his political advantage. Remember the video of him ranting on the black female trooper that pulled over his vehicle for speeding? He is a Republican who doesn't need the facts to influence his thinking.

    October 15, 2009 at 10:37 pm |
  13. Enough from Dallas, Tx

    Only in Texas are some of our government officials, some of our police officers, and some of our judges just as corrupt as criminals but with a title, badge and gavel. This makes me sick and ashamed of our system. The thought of how many innocent people have been put to death in this big ole good boy state of Texas is horrifying! I can't even begin to count how many innocent people in Texas (especially Dallas!) have been released after spending decades in prison for a crime they did not commit thanks to The Innocence Project!

    October 15, 2009 at 10:36 pm |
  14. Dennis

    What is Gov.Perry trying to hide?.. I guess his re-election is more important than justice.Maybe he might be tried on civil rights violations.With this backward way of life and thinking this is the reason I no longer live in Texas!

    October 15, 2009 at 10:36 pm |
  15. Terry, Cleveland, OH

    This juror should have been a grown-up about it and not served. It's clearly time to stop irrevocable punishment, especially in a vane state like Texas where justice was so well perfected (time and time again). If it weren't for the vanity, would anybody need to wonder about anything the rest of their life?

    October 15, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  16. Brandon

    i think it is great that she is feeling guilty and wondering if she sent an inocent man to death. It shows compassion. In this country you are inocent until PROVEN guilty. They did not prove either way...

    October 15, 2009 at 10:12 pm |
  17. Annie Kate

    Sounds like this juror already had reasonable doubt so why did she vote guilty? Did the judge adequately explain to this jury what reasonable doubt was and what it wasn't?

    How many people each year do we put to death that are innocent? Even one is one too many. Perhaps we need to rethink our punishment methods.

    October 15, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  18. alex lyrics

    If one truly cares for the innocent then he or she should donate time or money to the Innocense Project started by Johnie Cochran and another 1000 lawyers working for free to in turn free innocent men and women on death row, and in prison.

    This man dies proclaiming his innocense, and this must count for something. It could happen just as easily to you and me.

    October 15, 2009 at 9:06 pm |
  19. scottito

    If it turns out that Gov Perry knew there was evidence that might exonerate Willingham and refused to pardon him or delay the execution, he should be tried for murder.

    October 15, 2009 at 7:54 pm |
  20. Eliza

    This is precisely why I am against the death penalty. There have been innocent people wrongfully put to death before and I'm sure it will happen again. Until there is a 100% foolproof way to make sure we don't execute innocent people, I think the death penalty should be taken off the table completely.

    October 15, 2009 at 7:50 pm |
  21. Richard Harris

    I believe he was guilty. No father who loved his children would allow them to die in a fire while he saved his own skin. This case is similar to a case in upstate New York circa 2000. The father was clearly guilty in that case too.

    October 15, 2009 at 7:31 pm |
  22. John A

    What is really sad and is a direct indictment of the times we live in is this: the Texas govenor wont even enterttrain the idea that someone that was innocent was killed by the state.....oh my God ...its all about politics....about getting elected

    October 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm |
  23. Rick

    Is anybody surprised considering the rash of Governors, Senators, and Congressmen that have been shown to have been abusing their office? Lets face it; its good news to know that crooked public servants have been uncovered, but bad, old news to expect any of their fellow colleagues to critisize them. After all, they might themselves get investigated. So its the same old status quo, see lots of evil, speak of no evil and of course, hear no evil.

    October 15, 2009 at 6:49 pm |
  24. david saint

    This needs to be settled outside the realm of politics, by an independant agency. Not the FBI, not this county Attorney, and no one affiliated with the Governor. INDEPENDANT investigation...until one is done, i dont see how his actions related to this dont make him out to be shady at best...

    October 15, 2009 at 6:16 pm |
  25. DFCurry

    Imagine, not wondering at all, if you sent an innocent man to the death chamber–Mr. Perry?

    October 15, 2009 at 5:01 pm |
  26. amanda

    how could someone that called his children his babbies be convicted of killing them?? this is a mistrial if i ever saw one. the woman who was "good friends" with Fogg shouldn't have been aloud on the joury because she has a bias opinion. no way could this ever be arson. this man loved his children too much to ever be able to even think about setting fire to his house. thats a parent's worst nightmare; loosing their children. why would he kill them? i do not agree with the way this trial was handled! the investigation for the governor was wrongly inturrupted and should still be conducted.

    October 15, 2009 at 4:53 pm |
  27. ghostcat21

    I certainly think Perry's covering something up. There's no other reason to replace those four people, and no way to make up for what he's done. I definitely think Willingham was innocent and nows he's dead because Perry thought he was right. It disgusts me.

    October 15, 2009 at 4:52 pm |
  28. shotgunmadness

    i think that the govener knows that he put an innecent to death

    October 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm |
  29. Kira Oliver

    I think the govrnor should have to go to jail.

    October 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm |
  30. Daniel Durham

    this is why Judges are supposed to inform the jury that if they have any lingering doubt as to whether he committed a murder then you should choose life instead of the death penalty. It seems like people in the south are much quicker to blindly trust the authorities and the directions of prosecutors wheras us northern city dwekking folk are much more skpetical

    October 15, 2009 at 4:21 pm |