StandDown Texas Project

The StandDown Texas Project identifies and advocates best practices in the criminal justice system. To stand down is to go off duty temporarily, especially to review safety procedures. That is what Texas needs to do with its death penalty.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Another Death Row Exoneration in Texas

After 17 years on Texas death row Ernest Willis will soon be released from prison, exonerated and free. A federal district judge had overturned the conviction several months ago ordering that Willis be retried or released. After reviewing the case with arson experts, the Pecos County District Attorney has announced that he is dismissing the case.

Willis was sent to death row after being convicted of starting a house fire that killed two people. Experts now believe the fire was accidental, likely caused by faulty wiring, and not caused by arson.

The Willis case had been controversial for years because of Willis' forced medication during his trial. The powerful prescription drugs he was given rendered him unable to assist in his defense.

Willis is the eighth individual to be exonerated in Texas according to the national register maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center ( He is the 117th individual in the nation to have been exonerated after being sentenced to death.

Approximately one percent of those sentenced to death in Texas have later been exonerated and released.

More coverage can be expected tomorrow. Maro Robbins of the San Antonio Express-News broke the story:


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