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INCENDIARY: The Willingham Case Review

INCENDIARY: The Willingham Case Review

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 snitch's 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 film's argument (which mirrors that of Barry Scheck's 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 anti-death 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fact that this case is, fundamentally, one about scientific methods and the necessity to review sentences determined by outdated techniques.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, it's a doc that, released on the heels of the national Troy Davis outrage, successfully inflames one's righteous indignation at government-sanctioned anti-intellectualism, even as it leaves slightly open the question of its deceased subject's actual guilt.