For two decades, a Texas prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham of murdering his three young daughters insisted that authorities made no deals for the testimony of a jailhouse informer who told jurors Willingham confessed the crime to him. Since Willingham was executed in 2004, officials have defended the informer, Johnny Webb, as experts have discredited forensic evidence that Willingham might have deliberately set the house fire that killed his toddlers. New evidence has revived questions about Willingham's guilt, reports The Marshall Project for the Washington Post. In taped interviews, Webb, who had both recanted and affirmed his testimony, gave his first detailed account of how he lied on the witness stand in return for efforts by prosecutor John Jackson to reduce his sentence for robbery and to arrange thousands of dollars in support from a wealthy rancher.
Newly uncovered letters and court files show that Jackson worked to intercede for Webb after his testimony and to coordinate with the rancher, Charles S. Pearce Jr., to keep the informer in line. With Webb's account, the letters and documents expose a determined, years-long effort by the prosecutor to alter Webb's conviction, speed his parole, get him clemency and move him from a tough prison back to his hometown jail. Had such favorable treatment been revealed before his execution, Willingham might have had grounds to seek a new trial.