Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters in 1991. However, a forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.
This travesty of justice led reporter David Grann to write an excellent in-depth article about the case, which appeared in the September 7th edition of New Yorker and can be found online here.
And the article did not go unnoticed, apparently. David Brooks of the New York Times recently called Grann's article the most powerful essay he read this year:
"The most powerful essay I read this year was David Grann's 'Trial by Fire' in The New Yorker. Grann investigated the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for murdering his three children by setting their house on fire.Many thanks to David Brooks for calling attention to the New Yorker article and the issue. As more and more Americans learn how the death penalty can go so terribly wrong, perhaps public support for that barbaric practice will finally start to wane.
"In the first part of the essay, Grann lays out the evidence that led to Willingham's conviction: the marks on the floor and walls that suggested that a fire accelerant had been splashed around; the distinct smoke patterns suggesting arson; the fact that Willingham was able to flee the house barefoot without burning his feet.
"Then, in the rest of the essay, Grann raises grave doubts about that evidence. He tells the story of a few people who looked into the matter, found a miscarriage of justice and then had their arguments ignored as Willingham was put to death. Grann painstakingly describes how bogus science may have swayed the system to kill an innocent man, but at the core of the piece there are the complex relationships that grew up around a man convicted of burning his children. If you can still support the death penalty after reading this piece, you have stronger convictions than I do."