A decade after Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for the arson murder of his three young daughters, there is new evidence that a key prosecution witness testified in return for a secret promise to have his own criminal sentence reduced, reports The Marshall Project. In a previously undisclosed letter that the witness, Johnny Webb, wrote from prison in 1996, he urged the lead prosecutor to make good on what Webb described as an earlier promise to downgrade his conviction. Within days, prosecutor John Jackson sought out the judge who handled Willingham's case and obtained a court order that altered the record of Webb's robbery conviction to make him eligible for parole.
Webb would later recant his testimony that Willingham confessed to setting his house on fire with the toddlers inside. Jackson's handling of the case is under investigation by the State Bar of Texas after a formal complaint of prosecutorial misconduct last summer. That grievance asked that Jackson be sanctioned or even prosecuted for falsifying official records, withholding evidence and obstructing justice. Yesterday, an attorney for Jackson said he expected the Texas bar to notify his client soon that it will pursue formal charges of misconduct. Regardless of when Jackson would have learned of a possible deal, he would have been legally bound to disclose any such favorable treatment of a witness to the defense.