It’s hard to get accountability for prosecutorial misconduct.
Previous posts on this blog have discussed the case of Cameron Willingham, a Texas man who was executed on Feb. 17, 2004 for setting a fire that killed his daughters on Dec. 23, 1991 in their Corsicana, Texas home. The prosecution’s case against him was two-pronged—testimony by fire investigators that their analysis of the fire debris showed the blaze was deliberately set and Webb’s assertion that Willingham had confessed.
Weeks before the execution, an independent fire expert concluded there was no evidence the fire was deliberately set.Over the next decade numerous experts also reached the same conclusion.
As to the confession, the prosecutor, John Jackson, had not disclosed to Willingham’s defense lawyers that jailhouse snitch Johnny Webb had been promised favorable treatment on an aggravated robbery conviction in return for testimony at Willingham’s trial. Webb later recanted his testimony.
The Texas State Bar charged the prosecutor with making false statements, concealing evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense and obstructing justice. After a trial of more than two weeks, a Texas jury on Wednesday found that former state prosecutor John Jackson had not committed misconduct.
Withholding evidence that is favorable to a defendant, whether it is evidence of innocence or evidence that undercuts a prosecution witness such as Webb, is one of the most common acts of prosecutorial misconduct. The National Registry of Exonerations reports that official misconduct, which includes misconduct by prosecutors, police and other government officials, has been a contributing factor in about half of the wrongful convictions in the Registry.