March 20: Death By Fire (#20)

It's day 20 of #DocuMarch already? I've said it before, but this was a good way to burn a month. Oh wait... did I just say Burn? *SEGUEWAY*

Death By Fire is an episode of Frontline from a few years ago, but since it's technically still a documentary (and it's less than 1 hour long and it's Friday) I decided to watch it today. The 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham -- convicted for the arson deaths of his three young children -- is the subject of Death by Fire. 

Did Texas execute an innocent man? 

Death By Fire begins by giving the viewer what appears to be an obvious case of arson (and therefore, murder), executed by Todd Willingham. From his inconsistent story about trying to save his daughters, to partying days after the fire, and allegedly talking about "not having to worry about money anymore," Todd didn't seem like a mourning father - he seemed like a cold-hearted d*ckhead. 

In the years since Willingham’s conviction in 1992, there has been a dramatic change in the science of arson investigation. After re-examining the evidence used to convict Willingham, an arson scientist determined that there was no sign of arson and that Willingham had been wrongly convicted

And then just days ago on PBS.com... this headline:

Despite this report and a series of emergency appeals, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by lethal injection in 2004.

THOUGHTS

What pissed me off the most about Death By Fire are the clearly-biased & lazy Texas prosecutors. They point to his rocky relationship with the children's mom, the boozing after the fire, his womanizing ways, and the "Satanic" images in his jail cell (which turned out to be Iron Maiden posters) to paint Todd as a total monster, and the perfect scapegoat. Sure, he might not have seemed like a mourning father or a very stand-up dude... but that doesn't mean he's a murderer.

The original detectives say they found evidence of the use of fire accelerant (which they couldn't prove and was later disproved by a scientist), and used testimony given to them from Willingham's cell-mate who says Todd had confessed to the crime because he "couldn't live with himself." And that was all she wrote for Todd Willingham

The worst part is what you find out later: Willingham's cell mate lied about the confession, saying he was pressured by the prosecutors to cooperate in exchange for a lighter sentence on a separate crime. I'll leave the rest of the story for you to watch & judge for yourself.

TL;DR

Texas man might have been wrongly sentenced to death for a crime that was never proven in court.

4 of 5 Stars!

Onwards,
--Justin