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Trial By Fire Tells Story Of Dad Who May Have Been Wrongly Executed For Killing His Children

Trial By Fire Tells Story Of Dad Who May Have Been Wrongly Executed For Killing His Children

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS

On 23 December 1991, a fire destroyed the Texas home belonging to Cameron Todd Willingham and his family. The blaze killed their three daughters and Willingham survived along with his wife who was out of the house at the time.

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In 1992 he was tried and convicted based on the testimony of forensic experts who said that the fire was intentionally started - then on October 29, 1992, he was sentenced to execution which took place in 2004.

Now, a new film Trial By Fire examines the claims made that the dad-of-three was wrongly killed and could have actually been wrongfully convicted.

In the trailer, Willingham (played by Jack O'Connell) tells Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern): "Any man can't save his own kids don't deserve to live."

Elizabeth Gilbert was the woman who began to investigate Willingham's case during his time on death row.

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According to The New Yorker, she began to reveal flaws in the evidence which was used to convict the inmate, raising the possibility that he could have been innocent.

Cameron Todd Willingham. Credit: Todd Willingham family
Cameron Todd Willingham. Credit: Todd Willingham family

The film, directed by Edward Zwick, is based on a 2009 investigative report by David Grann which shed fresh light on the case suggesting that the arson evidence was either misinterpreted or inaccurate.

The arson investigators were said to have pointed the finger of blame at Willingham using dated fire investigation techniques, according to the Mirror.

A prison informant called Johnny Webb also told authorities that Willingham confessed to intentionally setting his house on fire but he has since told David Grann that he could have been wrong.

Inside the home of Willingham following the blaze. Credit: Texas State Fire Marshal's Office
Inside the home of Willingham following the blaze. Credit: Texas State Fire Marshal's Office

In 2009 David Grann wrote: "When I recently asked Webb, who was released from prison two years ago, about the turnabout and why Willingham would have confessed to a virtual stranger, he said that he knew only what 'the dude told me'.

"After I pressed him, he said, 'It's very possible I misunderstood what he said'. Since the trial, Webb has been given an additional diagnosis, bipolar disorder.

"Being locked up in that little cell makes you kind of crazy, he said. 'My memory is in bits and pieces. I was on a lot of medication at the time. Everyone knew that'."

The outside of the house. Credit: Texas State Fire Marshal's Office
The outside of the house. Credit: Texas State Fire Marshal's Office

Pressed about the film's production, Zwick said in a statement: "I first read David Grann's article in The New Yorker nearly 10 years ago.

"I couldn't stop talking about it to friends and soon realized I had to try to make it as a film. I was appalled by the iniquity of Todd Willingham's trial. I was completely infuriated by the miscarriage of justice that led to his imprisonment.

"This is ultimately a film about one man wrongly facing the death penalty and the profound preciousness of life."

The release date for Trial by Fire is 17 May 2019.

Featured Image Credit: Todd Willingham family

Topics: execution, Texas, Entertainment, TV and Film

Rebecca Shepherd

I'm Becky - a journalist at LADbible. I graduated with a First Class BA in Journalism before going on to cover criminal court cases, medical tribunals and breaking news for the national media - which inevitably and eventually became as glum as it sounds. Can often be found rocking a bag for life - which I made a 'thing' way before Rihanna. You can contact me at [email protected]

 

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