After the Death Penalty, Still Fighting for Justice in Incendiary: The Willingham Case
Conservative Texas governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry comes across as the poster child for unjust death-penalty fanaticism in Incendiary: The Willingham Case, an exhaustive activist documentary about the posthumous efforts to exonerate Cameron Todd Willingham and, in doing so, to transform state forensic procedures. In 1991, abusive heavy-metaler Willingham escaped a house fire that killed his three young daughters and was soon thereafter convicted of arson and put on death row courtesy of a prison snitchs dubious testimony and fire marshal reports that subsequent experts invalidated as witchcraft pseudo-science. Directors Joe Bailey Jr. and Steve Mims provide a thorough primer on fire and flammable accelerants in order to ground their films argument (which mirrors that of Barry Schecks Innocence Project lawsuit): namely, that Willingham, who received a lethal injection in 2004, was executed on the basis of flawed evidence. Unlike some Willingham defenders, Incendiary cogently separates the antideath penalty cause from the fact that this case is, fundamentally, one about scientific methods and the necessity to review sentences determined by outdated techniques. If occasionally a tad dry, its a doc that, released on the heels of the national Troy Davis outrage, successfully inflames ones righteous indignation at government-sanctioned anti-intellectualism, even as it leaves slightly open the question of its deceased subjects actual guilt.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.