Thursday, November 17, 2011


Barry Schenk in Incendiary: The Willingham Case.
Texas is burning

As Rick Perry carries on his futile run for the Republican Party 2012 presidential nomination, a documentary about just some of his misconduct as the current and longest Governor of Texas hits a few select theaters.

Co-directed and produced by Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr., Incendiary: The Willingham Case chronicles how a brutish -- but seemingly innocent of infanticide -- man named Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted and executed for the murder of his three children.

In December of 1991 Willingham was home with his three children when a fire started in his house. While he was able to escape, his three children were not. When two fire investigators arrived they practiced their "art" by immediately suspecting arson, ruling out any other theory. In the process they destroyed what could have been evidence to the contrary. Soon after Willingham was arrested and charged with three counts of murder in the first degree.

Incompetently represented by a defender who considered Willingham a sociopath, David Martin (who comes off here as the scummiest of scum), Willingham was found guilty based on bunk science and prison snitch (who later recanted), sentenced and, after spending 23 hours a day for 12 years in solitary confinement, executed. Willingham turned down a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence.

It was an irresponsible (to put it mildly) rush to the switch and some people would not let it go, including some of the greatest fire experts in the country plus Barry Scheck and The Innocence Project. As the pressure mounted against Perry and his old boys, something had to be done and it was not going to be made in the name of justice.

While a state execution of an innocent man is hardly new – nationwide state governments have executed hundreds of innocent men and women since the early 1900s – what resonates for this documentary is the issue of science and how, sometimes, it gets in the way of quick justice and mean politics.

As sober as a lab report, the excellent documentary metes out its findings with calm precision. Rather than make a particular point, the co-directors let the participants establish and prove his and her findings as well as some grand “common sense” stupidity.  The results go beyond the tragic, terrifying death of three children under the age of three and their father 12 years later. They strike hard into the willful and deliberate ignorance of far too many Americans.

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