Texas Bar Files Formal Accusation Of Misconduct Against Prosecutor Of Controversial Death Penalty Case

| by Jared Keever
article imagearticle image

The State Bar of Texas has filed a formal accusation of misconduct against a former prosecutor who secured the conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who maintained his innocence until he was executed in 2004 for the murder of his three daughters. 

The Associated Press reports John Jackson, who handled the 1992 trial, is accused of concealing evidence that could have exonerated Willingham. The bar has asked a Navarro County court to discipline Jackson.

“Before, during, and after the 1992 trial, [Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel,” the bar action, filed March 5, reads, according to a recent story from The Washington Post. 

The disciplinary petition also accuses Jackson of obstruction of justice and making false statements. 

Willingham was convicted of the 1991 arson murder of his three daughters. Jackson argued during the trial that the father “very likely” poured some accelerant, in the shape of a pentagram, on the floor of his home and set the fire as a ritual in satanic worship.

Willingham’s relatives and other supporters have worked with The Innocence Project for a decade seeking a posthumous pardon of the man. 

At the center of his controversial conviction is the testimony of a jailhouse informant, named Johnny Webb, who testified that Willingham confessed the murders to him while they were both in a Navarro County jail. 

Webb has since recanted that testimony and told The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism group, that Jackson coerced him to testify by threatening him with a harsh sentence for a robbery to which he would eventually plead guilty.

The bar’s petition claims Jackson had Webb’s conviction changed from aggravated robbery to the lesser charge of robbery and ultimately had him transferred from prison back to jail in Navarro County after Webb had his parole denied. 

Jackson has said in the past that he did work to help Webb but that was only because the man was being threatened in prison by other inmates for having testified. 

But the bar’s petition says Webb should have disclosed the favorable treatment to the court.

“Jackson failed to make timely disclosure to the defense details for favorable treatment for Webb, an inmate, in exchange for Webb’s testimony at trial for the State,” the petition reads. “During a pre-trial hearing on July 24, 1992, [Jackson] told the trial court that he had no evidence favorable to Willingham.

“That statement was false,” it continues.

No date has been set for a hearing on the petition that accuses Jackson of violating various sections of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. It asks that the former prosecutor “be disciplined as the facts shall warrant.” 

That discipline could range from no discipline to disbarment, according to The Washington Post. 

Jackson declined comment to The Associated Press and referred all questions to his attorney. 

Sources: CBS-DFW (AP Story), The Washington Post

Photo Credit: The Associated Press via CBS-DFW