16.6.11

Cameron Todd Willingham - a likely innocent man executed in 2004.


INCENDIARY the willingham case (2011 SILVERDOCS U.S. Sterling Feature Competition) from Joe Bailey, Jr. on Vimeo.


I'm not terribly concerned with the death penalty system in the US. Sure, there are innocent people that keep being released after spending years on death row. Sure, it helps to have a lot of money and not be black if you want to avoid the death penalty. But in comparison to the number of people put to death each year in wars and in China this is not that big of a deal. Or compare it to the drug war or the gun violence or the situation on the border to Mexico - this is a more minor issue, except maybe philosophically.

Eventually the death penalty will be repealed in the US, that's inevitable. In the meantime I won't be crying much over the vast majority of those put to death.

But here's a very likely innocent person that was executed not very long ago at all.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cameron_Todd_Willingham

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann

He had beaten his wife. They had reconciled. He had a poster of Iron Maiden in his basement. He had a grill on his front porch. He didn't act exactly the way everyone who witnessed the house burning down thought he should have acted. If a parent doesn't die in the fire that kills his kids, then he's automatically guilty, according to some, apparently. He did not rush back into the fire to save his kids. Is that good enough reason to execute someone? I think not.

The major reason he was convicted and eventually executed was perjured testimony from a jailhouse informant that received time off his sentence in exchange for his testimony. He later recanted and asked "The statute of limitations has run out on perjury, right?" The uneducated, unlicensed, uncertified arson investigator was a fan of folklore and pseudo-science - and proud of the 80% of his fire investigations that came out as arson. Nationwide, that figure is more around 20%. His investigation was later debunked, but the scientific investigation did not get to the Governor of Texas at the time of the execution. His aides kept it from him for political reasons, apparently.

It's a bit too late now that our society has already executed him, but it wouldn't hurt to finally officially recognize that a faulty justice system and political process failed to grant this man a fair trial. He was very likely innocent, and at the very least not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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