SXSW Review: Incendiary: The Willingham Case

Wednesday, March 23 by

Cameron Todd Willingham, by most accounts, was a son of a bitch. He hit his wife, drank too much, and listened to Slayer. He also loved his three children, which is why it came as such a shock when he was brought up on charges of burning them to death along with the family home. Incendiary: The Willingham Case is a compelling documentary about how he was charged and executed, despite a total lack of evidence indicating he was actually guilty, nor that a crime had even been committed.

How can this be? The movie lays out the case that the guilty party is the outmoded and antiquated field of fire investigation, which often runs counter to scientific facts about fire. There were many points of evidence used to convict Willingham, and the movie lays out several of them, and then has a variety of fire experts (who are true scientists, not pseudoscientists like the “arson investigators” who collected the evidence that convicted Willingham ) debunk every one. It’s pretty scary to think that a man can wake up to his house on fire and his children burning, and end up getting executed for their murders, but that’s why a documentary like this needs to be seen.

And the movie doesn’t fail its subject. Joe Bailey Jr. and Steve Mims, the film’s directors, go heavy on facts and expert testimony and light on heartstring-tugging, without letting the movie get bogged down or boring. This is a movie with a lot of information to convey, and it does it in a briskly entertaining fashion – there’s a surprising amount of humor in the movie, especially at the expense of the Texas politicians complicit in faulty evidence being allowed to lead to a lethal injection.

It might not be possible for a movie to change the world, but Incendiary will probably accomplish the next best thing and make you think about the issues at stake – not just the death penalty and wrongfu conviction, but arson investigation and politics taking precedence over justice.

Do you like this story?

More about...

,

COMMENTS

  1. March 23, 2011 9:04 am

    Eorugeogh

    Sounds interesting.


  2. March 23, 2011 9:04 am

    Anonymous

    Second Distribution

    From: Dudley Sharp

    I look forward to seeing the documentary film, “Incendiary”, which concerns the forensics in the Cameron Todd Willingham case.

    Both filmmakers, Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr., were very influenced by David Grann’s New Yorker article “Trial by Fire”.

    I deconstructed “Trial by Fire” even BEFORE I had read the trial transcript and police reports (1). The article was that one sided and misleading. It appears that both Mims and Bailey were unaware of that. That may not bode well for the objectivity of “Incendiary”.

    Evidently, neither Mims nor Bailey noticed the problems with fire expert Gerald Hurst (1), who is a major part of “Incendiary”. Too bad.

    Nor did they notice the problems with the Innocence Project Arson Review Report (2), which fire expert John Lentini participated in. Lentini is, of course, another major player in “Incendiary”.

    I have both written and collected a number of articles on the Willingham case, many dealing with some obvious misunderstandings of it (3).

    I hope “Incendiary” is a true documentary and avoids many of the disasters from another alleged documentary “At the Death House Door” (4)

    I think a documentary is supposed to be non fiction. Yes?

    The number of false claims of the exonerated or innocent cases, by the anti death penalty folks, is a disturbing reality in the death penalty debate (5). I can hope “Incendiary” is not just jumping onto that unfortunate bandwagon.

    For example:

    “There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person (Willingham) has been executed. The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again,’ Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck says (6).

    This claim is, of course, false. But Scheck and the Innocence Project refuse to take it down. Why? Maybe an anti death penalty agenda or other interests?

    Of course, Scheck plays a leading role in the film, another strike against objectivity.

    There is of course much doubt. The fire most certainly could have been arson and, if there was a flashover, as many have concluded, such would have destroyed the evidence of arson. This is very well known in fire forensics.

    We could have an audio/video recording of Todd Willingham setting the fire and letting his children burn to death and we would, likely, still find the same complaints about the forensic reports from the time of the fire and at trial, even though arson/murder was definitive.

    Can a documentary not lie and be totally misleading by omission? Of course. Is “Incendiary” truth or fiction? I’ll wait and see.

    1) Cameron Todd Willingham: Media meltdown & the death penalty:”Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?”, by David Grann

    2) Innocence Project Report: Cameron Todd Willingham
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/26/innocence-project-report-cameron-todd-willingham.aspx

    3) “Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”, A Collection of Articles
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Cameron%20Todd%20Willingham.aspx

    4) “At the Death House Door” Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx

    5) a) “The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception–death-penalty-opponents–draft.aspx

    b) The 130 (now 138) death row “innocents” scam
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

    c) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean–the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

    6) News Release, Innocence Project
    http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/New_Report_Shows_that_Cameron_Todd_Willingham_Executed_in_Texas_in_2004_Was_Innocent.php


  3. March 23, 2011 9:04 am

    Anonymous

    Second Distribution

    From: Dudley Sharp

    I look forward to seeing the documentary film, “Incendiary”, which concerns the forensics in the Cameron Todd Willingham case.

    Both filmmakers, Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr., were very influenced by David Grann’s New Yorker article “Trial by Fire”.

    I deconstructed “Trial by Fire” even BEFORE I had read the trial transcript and police reports (1). The article was that one sided and misleading. It appears that both Mims and Bailey were unaware of that. That may not bode well for the objectivity of “Incendiary”.

    Evidently, neither Mims nor Bailey noticed the problems with fire expert Gerald Hurst (1), who is a major part of “Incendiary”. Too bad.

    Nor did they notice the problems with the Innocence Project Arson Review Report (2), which fire expert John Lentini participated in. Lentini is, of course, another major player in “Incendiary”.

    I have both written and collected a number of articles on the Willingham case, many dealing with some obvious misunderstandings of it (3).

    I hope “Incendiary” is a true documentary and avoids many of the disasters from another alleged documentary “At the Death House Door” (4)

    I think a documentary is supposed to be non fiction. Yes?

    The number of false claims of the exonerated or innocent cases, by the anti death penalty folks, is a disturbing reality in the death penalty debate (5). I can hope “Incendiary” is not just jumping onto that unfortunate bandwagon.

    For example:

    “There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person (Willingham) has been executed. The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again,’ Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck says (6).

    This claim is, of course, false. But Scheck and the Innocence Project refuse to take it down. Why? Maybe an anti death penalty agenda or other interests?

    Of course, Scheck plays a leading role in the film, another strike against objectivity.

    There is of course much doubt. The fire most certainly could have been arson and, if there was a flashover, as many have concluded, such would have destroyed the evidence of arson. This is very well known in fire forensics.

    We could have an audio/video recording of Todd Willingham setting the fire and letting his children burn to death and we would, likely, still find the same complaints about the forensic reports from the time of the fire and at trial, even though arson/murder was definitive.

    Can a documentary not lie and be totally misleading by omission? Of course. Is “Incendiary” truth or fiction? I’ll wait and see.

    1) Cameron Todd Willingham: Media meltdown & the death penalty:”Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?”, by David Grann

    2) Innocence Project Report: Cameron Todd Willingham
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/26/innocence-project-report-cameron-todd-willingham.aspx

    3) “Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”, A Collection of Articles
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Cameron%20Todd%20Willingham.aspx

    4) “At the Death House Door” Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx

    5) a) “The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception–death-penalty-opponents–draft.aspx

    b) The 130 (now 138) death row “innocents” scam
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

    c) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean–the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

    6) News Release, Innocence Project
    http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/New_Report_Shows_that_Cameron_Todd_Willingham_Executed_in_Texas_in_2004_Was_Innocent.php


  4. March 23, 2011 9:04 am

    Anonymous

    Second Distribution

    From: Dudley Sharp

    I look forward to seeing the documentary film, “Incendiary”, which concerns the forensics in the Cameron Todd Willingham case.

    Both filmmakers, Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr., were very influenced by David Grann’s New Yorker article “Trial by Fire”.

    I deconstructed “Trial by Fire” even BEFORE I had read the trial transcript and police reports (1). The article was that one sided and misleading. It appears that both Mims and Bailey were unaware of that. That may not bode well for the objectivity of “Incendiary”.

    Evidently, neither Mims nor Bailey noticed the problems with fire expert Gerald Hurst (1), who is a major part of “Incendiary”. Too bad.

    Nor did they notice the problems with the Innocence Project Arson Review Report (2), which fire expert John Lentini participated in. Lentini is, of course, another major player in “Incendiary”.

    I have both written and collected a number of articles on the Willingham case, many dealing with some obvious misunderstandings of it (3).

    I hope “Incendiary” is a true documentary and avoids many of the disasters from another alleged documentary “At the Death House Door” (4)

    I think a documentary is supposed to be non fiction. Yes?

    The number of false claims of the exonerated or innocent cases, by the anti death penalty folks, is a disturbing reality in the death penalty debate (5). I can hope “Incendiary” is not just jumping onto that unfortunate bandwagon.

    For example:

    “There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person (Willingham) has been executed. The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again,’ Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck says (6).

    This claim is, of course, false. But Scheck and the Innocence Project refuse to take it down. Why? Maybe an anti death penalty agenda or other interests?

    Of course, Scheck plays a leading role in the film, another strike against objectivity.

    There is of course much doubt. The fire most certainly could have been arson and, if there was a flashover, as many have concluded, such would have destroyed the evidence of arson. This is very well known in fire forensics.

    We could have an audio/video recording of Todd Willingham setting the fire and letting his children burn to death and we would, likely, still find the same complaints about the forensic reports from the time of the fire and at trial, even though arson/murder was definitive.

    Can a documentary not lie and be totally misleading by omission? Of course. Is “Incendiary” truth or fiction? I’ll wait and see.

    1) Cameron Todd Willingham: Media meltdown & the death penalty:”Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?”, by David Grann

    2) Innocence Project Report: Cameron Todd Willingham
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/26/innocence-project-report-cameron-todd-willingham.aspx

    3) “Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”, A Collection of Articles
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Cameron%20Todd%20Willingham.aspx

    4) “At the Death House Door” Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx

    5) a) “The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception–death-penalty-opponents–draft.aspx

    b) The 130 (now 138) death row “innocents” scam
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

    c) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean–the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

    6) News Release, Innocence Project
    http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/New_Report_Shows_that_Cameron_Todd_Willingham_Executed_in_Texas_in_2004_Was_Innocent.php


  5. March 23, 2011 9:04 am

    Anonymous

    Second Distribution

    From: Dudley Sharp

    I look forward to seeing the documentary film, “Incendiary”, which concerns the forensics in the Cameron Todd Willingham case.

    Both filmmakers, Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr., were very influenced by David Grann’s New Yorker article “Trial by Fire”.

    I deconstructed “Trial by Fire” even BEFORE I had read the trial transcript and police reports (1). The article was that one sided and misleading. It appears that both Mims and Bailey were unaware of that. That may not bode well for the objectivity of “Incendiary”.

    Evidently, neither Mims nor Bailey noticed the problems with fire expert Gerald Hurst (1), who is a major part of “Incendiary”. Too bad.

    Nor did they notice the problems with the Innocence Project Arson Review Report (2), which fire expert John Lentini participated in. Lentini is, of course, another major player in “Incendiary”.

    I have both written and collected a number of articles on the Willingham case, many dealing with some obvious misunderstandings of it (3).

    I hope “Incendiary” is a true documentary and avoids many of the disasters from another alleged documentary “At the Death House Door” (4)

    I think a documentary is supposed to be non fiction. Yes?

    The number of false claims of the exonerated or innocent cases, by the anti death penalty folks, is a disturbing reality in the death penalty debate (5). I can hope “Incendiary” is not just jumping onto that unfortunate bandwagon.

    For example:

    “There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person (Willingham) has been executed. The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again,’ Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck says (6).

    This claim is, of course, false. But Scheck and the Innocence Project refuse to take it down. Why? Maybe an anti death penalty agenda or other interests?

    Of course, Scheck plays a leading role in the film, another strike against objectivity.

    There is of course much doubt. The fire most certainly could have been arson and, if there was a flashover, as many have concluded, such would have destroyed the evidence of arson. This is very well known in fire forensics.

    We could have an audio/video recording of Todd Willingham setting the fire and letting his children burn to death and we would, likely, still find the same complaints about the forensic reports from the time of the fire and at trial, even though arson/murder was definitive.

    Can a documentary not lie and be totally misleading by omission? Of course. Is “Incendiary” truth or fiction? I’ll wait and see.

    1) Cameron Todd Willingham: Media meltdown & the death penalty:”Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?”, by David Grann

    2) Innocence Project Report: Cameron Todd Willingham
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/26/innocence-project-report-cameron-todd-willingham.aspx

    3) “Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”, A Collection of Articles
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Cameron%20Todd%20Willingham.aspx

    4) “At the Death House Door” Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx

    5) a) “The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception–death-penalty-opponents–draft.aspx

    b) The 130 (now 138) death row “innocents” scam
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

    c) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean–the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

    6) News Release, Innocence Project
    http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/New_Report_Shows_that_Cameron_Todd_Willingham_Executed_in_Texas_in_2004_Was_Innocent.php