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Inside Edward Zwick’s New Movie About the Execution of Cameron Todd Willingham

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Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern in Edward Zwick’s Trial by Fire.

In August of 1992, the state of Texas found Cameron Todd Willingham guilty in the triple-murder of his children. According to the state, Willingham had set fire to his house and blocked all paths of escape so that the three children would be trapped and incinerated. The charges were heinous, and the jury deliberated for a mere 45 minutes before rendering its verdict.

In the city of Corsicana, Texas, a little under an hour south of Dallas, Willingham had been known as a hard-drinking, philandering troublemaker. At his trial, Willingham was called an irredeemable sociopath, and possibly a demonist: Testifying for the prosecution, one psychologist suggested that Willingham’s Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden posters indicated Satanic or occult motives. The arson investigators were equally sure of Willingham’s guilt. “Fire doesn’t lie,” said a deputy fire marshal who had evaluated the evidence in the house. On February 17th, 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville.

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