Few if any of the jurors who convicted Drew Peterson of murdering third wife Kathy Savio know the fate, much less the name of Cameron Todd Willingham. But before deliberating Petersen's fate, Willingham's story should have been required reading.
Native Oklahoman Willingham died in 2004, not by natural causes but by the twisted scales of justice in Texas, the poster state for killing undesirable citizens, whether guilty or not for a real or imagined crimes.
In Willingham's case, he was not only innocent; he was executed in 2004 for an event, the fire deaths of his three children asleep with him one 1991 Corsicana, Texas night, that almost certainly wasn't arson and therefore not even a crime. No doubt the Texas jury viewed Willingham as evil incarnate when Texas prosecutors said the house that incinerated his kids was torched and the only one who could have done the deed was Willingham.
Reading the testimony of dueling pathologists splitting hairs on whether this Savio bruise or that Savio bruise were caused by a fall in the tub or a smack from a tough, streetwise cop bent on murder is mind numbing. But its easy for jurors to replay their mind tapes of Peterson acting the fool on national TV, joking and smirking about how fourth wife Stacy likely disappeared and therefore conclude he too was evil incarnate, and a murderer of Stacy's predecessor.
The controversial hearsay testimony that convicted Peterson aside, its difficult to get over the hurdle that a crime even occurred. The Texas legal system can't call a "mulligan" on Willingham's lethal injection, and by all accounts couldn't care less. But the Illinois appellate courts should ponder long and hard as to whether anyone, regardless of how hated they are, should be convicted of a crime whose actual occurrance is suspect. In Peterson's case, a "mulligan" is still possible.