Gov. Rick Perry, a likely GOP presidential candidate, faces a new burden: a searing documentary film, Incendiary, that looks at the railroading of a suspect for an arson incident that killed his children. The executed convict was Cameron Todd Willingham, but as the new film and extensive print journalism makes a compelling case that he was wrongly convicted and that Gov. Perry brushed aside strong evidence for his innocence.
As the Chicago Tribune summed up: “Man executed on disproved forensics…Fire that killed his 3 children could have been accidental.”Some highlights of its investigation, echoed by other accounts:
“While Texas authorities dismissed his protests, a Tribune investigation of his case shows that Willingham was prosecuted and convicted based primarily on arson theories that have since been repudiated by scientific advances. According to four fire experts consulted by the Tribune, the original investigation was flawed and it is even possible the fire was accidental. Before Willingham died by lethal injection on Feb. 17, Texas judges and Gov. Rick Perry turned aside a report from a prominent fire scientist questioning the conviction.” This miscarriage of justice, though, probably sells well with Perry’s hard-core ideological base. Nonetheless, as New York Times columnist Ta-Nehishi Coates points out: “The fire investigators who fingered Willingham relied on the kind of sorcery that fire scientists have tried for the past 20 years to chase from the field. The informant, for his part, claimed that Willingham had inexplicably blurted out a confession, then recanted his tale. Then, in the words of New Yorker reporter David Grann, he “recanted his recantation.” When Grann tracked him down in 2009, he told him that “it’s very possible I misunderstood” what Willingham said, pausing to add “the statute of limitations has run out on perjury, hasn’t it?'” “Perry was unswayed by pleas from Willingham’s lawyers and rejected their request for a 30-day reprieve. This registers as a rather mild atrocity in Texas, a state that does not so much tinker with the machinery of death as it gleefully fumbles at the controls.” Now the film about his prosecution and conviction — and all the mishandling of the allegations against him — gets an East Coast premiere at the AFI Silverdocs festival in Silver Spring this week. Here’s a trailer from the movie — but who will pay attention to what it says about Gov. Rick Perry and the American Way of Justice?