The most important issue this development should impact is the rush to speedy executions. The crime in this case occurred in 1991. Cameron Willingham was executed in February, 1994. Texas is proud of its efficiency. The state far surpasses any other in rapid executions.
This case may answer the often shouted demand for "speedy justice." Complaints about lengthy delays and multiple appeals deny the need for thorough review of every aspect of these cases BEFORE the terminal event, not afterward.
Willingham had continued to proclaim his innocence up to the moment he was lethally injected. He had claimed that the fire was accidental, but prosecution expert testimony opined that the fire was of human origin based on interpretation of patterns of burn marks.
I suspect that Texas will defend their actions by denigrating the panel as biased, citing the fact that Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project commissioned the report, although no member of the panel was connected with Willingham's case, and none were paid for their work.
All are apparently independent, well-respected in their field. Their stated concern is that arson investigators are too often field educated firemen who have insufficient training and education in the scientific foundations of thei field.
Previous revelations (including conclusive DNA examination) have proved the unreliability of testimony by eyewitnesses, informants, police officers' versions of defendants' confessions, psychiatric experts, and fingerprint experts.
The unreliability of expert testimony is troubling because it strikes at the judicial system's reliance on scientific evidence as "the best" form of proof. Recent studies have cast doubt on work done by police lab experts in Texas and California, including incompetent analysis of blood, fingerprints, ballistics.
One bad expert employed by a police lab can screw up hundreds of cases.
Another obvious point this case speaks to is whether innocent people have been in fact been executed in recent years.
Although many cases have been documented, prosecutors, judges, elected executives and legislators, and many in the public continue to believe that claims are exaggerated, unproved, involve antiquated practices, or are motivated by soft headed opposition to capital punishment.
The fact that this article was "buried" on Page 16 of the newspaper is also troubling. If these findings are upheld, it should persuade more people that the implementation of the death penalty is fatally flawed.