A court hearing to determine whether a man executed in 2004 was in fact innocent faced further delay on Tuesday when a Texas appeals court ruled that the judge overseeing the case should have recused himself.
Cameron Todd Willingham’s family is seeking to have his name cleared amid claims that the evidence arson investigators used in his 1992 trial was based on flawed science.
If the court exonerates Willingham of killing his three daughters, he will be the first person officially declared innocent after -being -executed in the modern era of US capital punishment.
His family petitioned Texas State District Judge Charlie Baird to clear his name and reputation through an appeal.
Baird is known for exonerating Timothy Cole, who died in prison while serving a 25-year sentence after being wrongly convicted of being the “Texas Tech rapist.”
Another man confessed to the rape after Cole’s death, and DNA evidence proved that claim to be true.
Prosecutors declined to testify at Willingham’s October exoneration hearing and instead asked Baird to recuse himself because he presided over two of Willingham’s appeals and was given an award by an anti-death penalty group.
Baird declined to do so, ruling that the prosecutor did not have standing in the case.
He then heard from experts who refuted the original arson findings and from the Willingham family’s attorneys, who attacked the testimony of a fellow jail inmate who said Willingham confessed to the crime.
The state appeals court issued a temporary stay halting the proceedings before Baird could issue his opinion.
The three-judge panel ruled on Tuesday that “upon the filing of Thompson’s motion to recuse, Judge Baird was required to either recuse himself or refer the -motion to the presiding judge of the administrative judicial district and that he abused his discretion by failing to do so.”
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