Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Death by Fire on PBS' Frontline

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty sent out the following message last night, after the first showing of the new PBS Frontline documentary "Death by Fire", which looks into the case surrounding the arson-capital murders for which Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted and executed, even though there is no conclusive evidence indicating that the fire was arson.

Another glimpse into our flawed death penalty system in this country... Another possible miscarriage of justice...

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Friends,

This evening, the PBS television magazine Frontline launched its 29th season with “Death by Fire,” an exploration into the Cameron Todd Willingham case. The Innocence Project notes that evidence released in recent years, beginning before Todd Willingham was executed in 2004, lead to the “inescapable conclusion that Willingham did not set the fire for which he was executed.”

We’ve shared with you dozens of items about the Willingham case over the past year, starting with David Grann’s phenomenal story, “Trial by Fire,” in The New Yorker just over a year ago. This case, and the use of junk science to wrongly convict Willingham, inspired our Shouting From the Rooftops campaign and have garnered tremendous public and media interest.

We urge you to view this program, which is available in its entirety on the Frontline website. In addition, we believe that learning about this case helps the public see the deep flaws in our nation’s death penalty system. Please consider sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, using our online tool or by taking the sentiments in the sample letter below and putting them in your own words.

Thank you for sharing our concern about our nation’s capital punishment system.

Our Sample Letter:

On Tuesday night, October 19, PBS’ “Frontline” aired a very compelling documentary, “Death by Fire,” regarding wrongly convicted and executed Texas death row prisoner Cameron Todd Willingham. He was sentenced to death for killing his three children by arson, but as the program made clear once again, junk science and poor fire investigation methodology resulted in Willingham’s wrongful conviction.

Whether one supports or opposes the death penalty in principle, this program shows that our capital punishment is too unreliable to trust with life or death decisions. There’s too much politics in the system, and government simply can’t be trusted to create a death penalty system that truly works for our country. “Death by Fire’s” objective, informative and thorough reporting shows the evidence was not convincing enough in the Willingham case to allow that execution to go forward. We must support efforts to fairly and independently evaluate the evidence in this case, and in similar cases.

In fact, it’s time to end our archaic death penalty system and sentence murderers to alternatives like life in prison. That way, those who are innocent, as Willingham likely was, will have a chance to prove their case – while we keep dangerous criminals off the streets.

Death by Fire can be seen at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/death-by-fire/

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