He had attempted to abort each of his wife's two pregnancies by kicking her in order to cause miscarriages. In 2009, an investigative report by David Grann in The New Yorker drew upon analysis by arson investigation experts and advances in fire science since the 1992 investigation; he suggested that the evidence for arson was unconvincing. As a story!  Grigson had served as an expert witness for the prosecution in murder trials across the state of Texas. No clear motive was found, and Willingham's wife denied that the couple had been fighting prior to the night of the fire. "Our kids were spoiled rotten," she said, insisting he would never harm their children, but according to Kuykendall he did abuse her. Two medical experts confirmed the theory.  On October 25, Stacy Kuykendall told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that during a final prison meeting just weeks before he was put to death, Willingham admitted setting the fire in response to Stacy's alleged threats of divorce the night before.  Against the advice of his own counsel, Willingham declined a life sentence in exchange for his guilty plea. It put a human face on it, it gave us a beating heart. And this story had that. In some ways you're almost held to a higher standard, because there's a suspicion, I think, of something that just seems to be medicinal. And she said—I'm quoting her because she was at Telluride with us—that this had been a healing process for her too. He wrote, "Willingham's wife insisted during the trial and under interrogation that Willingham had not physically abused the children. It's used to teach a certain amount of utterly, I think, destructive fundamentalist belief at times; it's used to sell us things as products; it's used as a psychological means of understanding behavior. Senior Editor Ted Scheinman previously taught courses in satire, poetry, and journalism at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. Neighbors who had seen him trying to save his children from the fire suddenly changed their testimony in the courtroom; an incarcerated man with whom Willingham had shared a jail cell offered a suspiciously convenient account of how Willingham had confessed the crime to him. It literally was a catalog. I think he believed our intentions were honorable and has since seen the movie and become a real advocate of it. Listen, I am not at the center of it because I've been making a movie; I've talked to people who are in the center of it. So we had a window into that character as well. It wasn't gonna necessarily have to be an "issue" movie; it's a man's story. The film, based on the 2009 New Yorker article also title Trial By Fire, chronicles events around late Texas native Cameron Todd Willingham. More than a decade after his execution, Cameron Todd Willingham is still a pawn in the debate over the death penalty. In the absence of critical thinking, in the absence of being taught critical thinking, people are looking at single sources, and those sources are often designed to mislead them or they're serving a very particular agenda, and so to have the opportunity to do something that is complex and measured in some way and yet has its own agenda, I think is really necessary. , This left only the chemical testing for accelerant. A new report concludes that the Graham-Cassidy proposal would reduce federal funding to states by $215 billion by 2026. He was eventually transported to the hospital for treatment, in handcuffs.". ", Incendiary: The Willingham Case, a 2011 documentary film covering the case and its aftermath, won the Louis Black Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival. (Scott Honea/Corsicana (Tex.) On later scrutiny, the evidence of the arson experts started to fall apart. On this day in 1991 four members of the Willingham family were inside the home: a two-year-old named Amber, two one-year-old twins named Karmon and Kameron and the girls father, Cameron Todd Willingham. And some things we learn that are good through narrative, and some things we learn that are bad. He said that a picture of a fist punching through a skull signified violence and death. , In 2009, John Jackson, the prosecutor at the trial, stated that burns suffered by Willingham were "so superficial as to suggest that the same were self-inflicted in an attempt to divert suspicion from himself. ", Webb and Jackson consistently denied that Webb was offered a sentence reduction in return for his testimony against Willingham. "Fire doesn't lie," said a deputy fire marshal who had evaluated the evidence in the house. " According to Brandice, he refused, and moved his car away from the fire before returning to sit on a nearby lawn, "not once attempting to go inside to rescue his children." Dezember 1991 Brandstiftung an seinem eigenen Haus in Corsicana, Texas, begangen haben.  While on death row, Willingham was initially incarcerated in the Ellis Unit, and later in the Polunsky Unit.. The movie is based heavily on David Grann's 2009 New Yorker feature about the case—down to the title—and Laura Dern and Jack O'Connell turn in powerful, precise performances as Gilbert and Willingham, respectively.  Neither responded to Willingham's appeals. , In October 2009, the city of Corsicana released two affidavits that included statements from Ronnie Kuykendall, the former brother-in-law of Willingham, originally made in 2004. That brings me to my next question, which is about "issue" movies.  All twenty of the indications listed by Vasquez of an accelerant being used were rebutted by Hurst, who concluded there was "no evidence of arson" — the same conclusion reached by other fire investigators. ", A four-person panel of the Texas Forensic Science Commission investigating evidence of arson presented in the case acknowledged on July 23, 2010, that state and local arson investigators used "flawed science" in determining that the blaze had been deliberately set. , Hurst's report was sent to governor Rick Perry's office, as well as the Board of Pardons and Paroles along with Willingham's appeal for clemency. I have to imagine that somebody is gonna tell him, although who knows if these people live in an echo chamber where no one tells them anything? Willingham's attorneys were not notified. He suggested that, had this information been available at the time of trial, it would have provided grounds for Willingham's acquittal. I don't know, it's a really good question. Gilbert eventually became one of Willingham's fiercest advocates, taking an active role in his appeals and trying to persuade someone—anyone—in the office of then-Governor Rick Perry to consider new and potentially exculpatory evidence. Thirteen years later, the Texas man was executed for murdering his kids by arson. (Thompson later received an award from the Texas District and County Attorneys Association for this motion and appeal. Help us shape our ongoing coverage by responding to a short reader survey. Last week, Zwick sat down with Pacific Standard in Washington, D.C., to discuss criminal justice reform, the importance of investigative journalism, and why movies bear an increasing historical burden. CAMERON TODD WILLINGHAM: My little girl was crying, "Daddy! Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall has a video interview with Ernest Willis, an innocent man who was sentenced to death in Texas for setting an arson fire that was later determined to have been an accidental fire.Ernest was released in 2004, just eight months after Todd Willingham was executed. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in … Even after their divorce, she continued to proclaim Willingham's innocence, as in a 1999 recorded interview with a teacher researching the case. How long have you been invested in capital punishment and criminal justice reform more broadly? Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters 13 years earlier.  The 2011 documentary Incendiary: The Willingham Case also explored the case. , Journalists familiar with the case noted that Stacy Kuykendall's statement explicitly contradicted previous comments, legal testimony, and numerous published interviews before and after the execution. Over the past 15 years, the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham has stood as an indictment of Texas, of Rick Perry, and of the American criminal justice system. , At Willingham's trial, Webb offered an explanation for the individual, distinguishable burns found on Amber's forehead and arm. He said he was prescribed many medications at that point while being treated for bipolar disorder. Opponents of capital punishment say Willingham’s is … It also seemed to me to be a catalog of everything wrong and broken in the criminal justice system. The Skeptical Juror and the Trial of Cameron Todd Willingham by J. Bennett Allen Inferno: An Inquiry Into the Willingham Fire by J. Bennett Allen Trial by Fire by David Grann (The New Yorker, August 31 It looked more and more as though Texas was getting ready to execute an innocent man. Cameron Todd Willingham (* 9. ", An August 2009 Chicago Tribune investigative article concluded, "Over the past five years, the Willingham case has been reviewed by nine of the nation's top fire scientists — first for the Tribune, then for the Innocence Project, and now for the commission. And that's a higher bar, and sometimes you reach it, and sometimes you don't. Jackson claimed Willingham had abused animals and was a sociopath. In 1991, Cameron Todd Willingham was awakened by his children’s cries and found his house engulfed in fire and smoke. Willingham had escaped the fire with bare feet and no burn marks. I've done things that are based on fact before, and I feel an obligation to serve them because, for better or worse, movies are now more than ever becoming part of the permanent record. Latest Interviews.  This coverage suggested that the arson evidence was misinterpreted. Pacific Standard's Ideas section is your destination for idea-driven features, voracious culture coverage, sharp opinion, and enlightening conversation. According to the state, Willingham had set fire to his house and blocked all paths of escape so that the three children would be trapped and incinerated. "An independent review that claims the arson investigation that led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham was flawed will be presented to a state panel Oct. 2 in Dallas. The Texas Forensic Science Commission will hold its next quarterly meeting at 9:30 a.m. … Webb later said, "The statute of limitations has run out on perjury, hasn't it? ", The prosecution claimed that Willingham may have been motivated by a desire to rid himself of unwanted children. Zwick allows himself a handful of baldly didactic flourishes, but many viewers will likely feel such visceral fury at his dramatization of injustice that they might not mind the occasional sermonizing.  During his trial in August 1992, he was offered a life term in exchange for a guilty plea, which he turned down, insisting he was innocent. On seeing neighbor Diane Barbee, Willingham began to shout at her to call 911, shouting "My babies are in there! Before that, he was an editor at the Washington City Paper. This was taken as evidence that the accelerant was poured by Willingham as he left the house. In 1991, a tragic fire burned down a house in Corsicana, Texas, and killed three children. That is the closest to justice that my daughters will ever get. "He was polite, and he seemed to care," she said. , In 2004, Gerald Hurst examined the arson evidence compiled by state deputy fire marshal Manuel Vasquez. On February 17th, 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville. It also found insufficient evidence to prove that state Deputy Fire Marshal Manuel Vasquez and Corsicana Assistant Fire Chief Douglas Fogg were negligent or guilty of misconduct in their arson work. The front porch was the only place where an accelerant was verified by laboratory tests, and a photograph taken of the house before the fire showed that a charcoal grill was there. At a local bar, where a fundraiser was held for the Willingham family, he placed an order for a replacement set, stating that "money was not a problem now. Then there was Dr. James P. Grigson, one of the forensic psychologists for the prosecution, well known at the time as "Dr. Death" for his reliable cooperation with prosecutors in capital cases; Grigson was later kicked out of the American Psychiatric Association for ethical violations in his court testimonies. The 2011 documentary Incendiary: The Willingham Case also explored the case. Daddy!" Beyler said key testimony from a fire marshal at Willingham's trial was "hardly consistent with a scientific mind-set and is more characteristic of mystics or psychics.". On December 23, 1991, a fire destroyed the family home of Cameron Todd Willingham in Corsicana, Texas. Cameron Todd Willingham (January 9, 1968 – February 17, 2004) was an American man who was convicted and executed for the murder of his three young children by arson at the family home in Corsicana, Texas, on December 23, 1991. Death' says license won't be affected by allegations", "Execution Report: Cameron Willingham – Page 1", "Jackson: Guest Commentary – Willingham guilt never in doubt", "David Grann" The Prosecution Defends Itself", "A timeline of the Cameron Todd Willingham case", "Document – USA (Texas): Further Information on Death penalty, Cameron Todd Willingham", "Inmate maintains innocence as execution approaches", "Man executed for fire that killed children", "Texas man executed for setting fire that killed his 3 young children", https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/death-by-fire/interviews/gerald-hurst.html#1, "Dare Devils: Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Death Panel", "Texas Gov. ), In 2014, the Washington Post reported that new evidence emerged indicating that Webb had said in taped interviews that he lied on the witness stand in exchange for a prosecutor's help obtaining a reduced prison term and financial support from a rich rancher. Listen to all 12 interviews on OwlTail. Jailhouse informants are viewed with skepticism in the justice system, so much so that some jurisdictions have restrictions against their use. " The New Yorker writer David Grann, however, said fire investigators who reviewed the case told him that "Willingham's first-degree and second-degree burns were consistent with being in a fire before the moment of 'flashover' — that is, when everything in a room suddenly ignites. Webb later recanted his recantation. Several witnesses testified for the prosecution. Credit... Mike Graczyk/Associated Press. , In addition to the arson evidence presented at the trial, a jailhouse informant named Johnny Webb testified at that time.  This was also noted by Willingham's prosecutor, who said, "It's hard for me to make heads or tails of anything she said or didn't say. Jackson stated that Willingham's comment was an indicator of guilt. It's not measured in weeks and months; it's just measured in this kind of continuing effort. It feels like a movement that indeed still has life in it, and it could become part of the 2020 conversation because all the Democratic candidates have lined up behind Gavin Newsom. Why do you think that's the case? All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson. The arson investigators were equally sure of Willingham's guilt. The prosecutor, John Jackson, and the City of Corsicana have both released formal responses to the Beyler Report on the investigation of the fire that killed Willingham's three children at the behest of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.