Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Trial by Fire

“Justice” Served, in Fast-Food Burger Fashion
Review by Ken Burke
                            Trial by Fire (Edward Zwick)   rated R
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): This film, based on David Grann’s 2009 New Yorker article of the same name, is a somewhat-fictionalized-but-largely-based-in-fact-story of a young man condemned to death in Texas despite proclaiming his innocence of deliberately setting his home on fire, killing his 3 very young daughters.  As the scenes depict (backed up by a good deal of evidence cited in the more-lengthy-commentary just below), poorly-educated Cameron Todd Willingham—with a sordid reputation for drinking, cheating on his wife as well as abusing her, being attracted to heavy-metal-music, not being very employable—barely got any justice at all in his trial where witnesses lied on the stand, his lawyer presented no arguments or cross-examinations in Todd’s defense, arson “evidence” was flimsy and biased by the local authorities, so his conviction and death sentence were foregone conclusions, landing him in a harsh-prison-population where his reputation as a “baby killer” would likely have resulted in inmate-on-inmate-death had he not been mostly isolated on “death row.”  A fellow convict steered him toward an appeal process, though, strongly supported a few years later by a Houston woman, Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote to him, visited him in prison, researched his case to easily find numerous discrepancies as she worked to strengthen his appeal.  While you can quickly find the results of this situation with a simple Internet search, I’ll leave some details to the spoiler-filled-review below in case you want to see this film for yourself (assuming you can do so, as it’s currently playing in only 109 domestic [U.S.-Canada] theaters).  You’ll find critics’ responses to Trial by Fire (an insightful, appropriate title) to generally be negative, but I think it’s much better than how it’s often being characterized, would be glad to get some feedback—positive or negative—from anyone who might choose to watch it at some point.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: Corsicana, TX (although the film's shot in Georgia, with some mountains in the distance of the town not ringing true enough for this actual south-of-Dallas, flatlands location), December 1991.  We begin in a shocking manner as a ramshackle little house bursts into flames from the inside with frantic resident Cameron Todd (mostly goes by his middle name, as do I, a trait shared by others in my Texas family) Willingham (Jack O’Connell) running outside, trying to move his car back from the house, attempts to re-enter by breaking a window only to be pushed back by a wall of flame.  He shouts for neighbor Diane Barbee (seemingly renamed Margaret Hays here [assuming I got this right], played by Katie McClellan) to call 911; later, we learn his wife, Stacy Kuykendall (Emily Meade)—some accounts refer to her as Willingham—wasn’t home, having worked a night shift, stopped at the Salvation Army to buy Christmas presents for their girls, 2-year-old-Amber Louise Kuykendall and the 1-year-old-twins Karmon Diane Willingham, Kameron Marie Willingham (played respectively in flashback scenes by Elle Graham and the doubling of Scarlett Jordon).  Sadly, the girls are killed in the fire, followed up by inspections showing the back door was blocked by a refrigerator, while heavy-metal-music-posters in the parents’ bedroom and supposed pentagram-shaped-burn-marks lead the police to arrest Todd for arson and capital murder, as some sort of Satanist ritual to rid himself of the children, a charge he vehemently denies, despite how a guilty plea would give him a life sentence instead of a trial where he’d face execution.  Todd doesn’t have much going for him because he drinks too much, can’t hold a job, argues with/abuses/cheats on Stacy (she also cheats on him, flashes anger easily), but both of them profess ultimate love for their kids.  Todd’s 1992 trial’s treated like a confirmation of guilt given his retrograde-reputation, the less-than-substantial-forensics-“evidence,” lies about what happened that day from the neighbor woman and Todd’s cellmate, Johnny Webb (Blake Lewis), while prosecutor John Jackson (Jason Douglas) is relentless in his presentation (even quotes from the Bible to justify the death penalty) while defense attorney Peter Horton (Darren Pettie)—seems to be another name-change from the historical record of David Martin, as best I’ve understood this—offers no cross-examination or evidence on behalf of Todd, refuses to put him on the stand (we don’t even see his closing argument, whatever it might have been, although Todd offered the police his account of attempting to get into the girls’ room, only to be beaten back by the flames).  Stacy defends him in court, but her testimony’s considered suspect (?) because she admits to their troubled marriage as well as her mother being killed by her father; however, after the quick conviction and death sentence she never visits Todd in prison, doesn’t even answer his letters, now convinced of his guilt because of the trial.

 Once incarcerated, Todd’s in a “death row” cell away from the general prison population because his “baby killer” reputation leads immediately to a fight with other convicts, further beating from the guards, especially Daniels (Chris Coy) who detests Todd until later softening his stance.  However, Todd’s “neighbor” in the next cell, Ponchai (McKinley Belcher III), offers advice on the appeals process so Todd does some legal research (improving his vocabulary and attitude in the process), gets a court-appointed-lawyer (he can’t afford anyone else, nor a private eye to gather any helpful info), but this guy’s burdened with other cases, hasn’t found much to benefit Todd, so as the years move on Todd watches others be dragged down the corridor to the death chamber, never knowing when his date will be assigned.  Then in 1999 we meet divorced Elizabeth Gilbert* (Laura Dern) from Houston (variously described in citations as schoolteacher, poet, playwright) who agrees to volunteer in a program of writing to prisoners, her "pen pal" by chance being Todd.  After some correspondence she meets with him (assuming, like everyone else, he’s guilty), finds sympathy for his situation as well as his consistent claims of innocence, starts doing her own research on the great discrepancies in his case (including testimony by psychiatrist James Grigson [Lindsay Aylffe], aka “Dr. Death,” based on frequent prosecution-backing-testimony at numerous trials; he’s later expelled by the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for unethical conduct, including—as in Todd’s case—claiming a defendant would commit other crimes upon release without ever meeting the accused [she also talks with Todd’s trial lawyer who admits he considered his client guilty, made no effort to defend him; further, ex-cellmate-Webb apparently got reduced time in exchange for lying in court]).  However, Elizabeth’s friends, as well as her teenage kids Julie (Jade Pettyjohn) and Andrew (Noah Lomax), aren’t supportive of her interest in a guy everyone sees as a monster.  When Gilbert last visits Willingham in prison he admits he didn’t try to get to the girls’ bedroom because the fire was too intense, he was too scared, so in this sense he considers himself guilty (although that’s not a legal definition of any crime on his part). ⇒In the midst of all this, Todd gets his execution date (February 17, 2004), becomes withdrawn because he doesn’t want to be crushed by false hopes—which seems realistic because even when Elizabeth and the appeals lawyer get extensive analysis by fire-expert Gerald Hurst (Jeff Perry) the on-site-evidence from Todd's house was all bogus their appeal’s automatically denied, then when Webb hears Gilbert being interviewed on the radio about Willingham’s desperate situation he writes a letter of recantation but the Parole Board head just slips it into a drawer, unheeded (needless to say, the appeal to Gov. Rick Perry just days before the scheduled execution goes unanswered).⇐ 

*Not to be confused with the well-known Eat, Pray, Love (2006) author who shares the same name.

 As time ticks closer to the end for Todd, Elizabeth’s increasingly frantic to find some solution for his dilemma (which is what you’d expect this film to be about, his last-minute-rescue with life imitating countless stays of execution if not outright pardons in prison-themed-movies, if you—like me—are unaware of the actual outcome), so much so she’s distracted on her cell phone while driving, attempting to get some other strategy in place for Todd, when she’s broadsided by a truck, leaving her with a broken neck, no ability to walk, in badly-banged-up-recovery as Todd’s final day arrives, even though she promised she’d be there if execution became a reality.  One thing she did manage to achieve was finally convincing Stacy to visit her ex-husband, but she turns down his request for a letter supporting his final appeal, still convinced of his guilt.  No miracle rescue happens in this story; he’s simply strapped to a gurney, wheeled into the death chamber, makes a final statement of his innocence of either intent or act toward his daughters (there have also been some touching scenes of imagined visits by Amber to his cell prior to this conclusion) while also cursing Stacy for her lack of faith in him, then after the lethal injection his body convulses, dies.  In a final scene beginning with projection by Elizabeth, her kids (who’ve now come around to her belief in Todd) read his final letter to her as she sits in a wheelchair watching Todd joyfully reunited with his girls, followed by the actuality of Elizabeth in a cemetery with Julie and Andrew as they scatter Todd’s ashes over the graves of his daughters (in a 2010 New Yorker article Grann notes Gilbert’s now able to walk some, resulting from years of rehab).  In actual footage from the 2016 GOP Presidential debates side-by-side with the credits we see then-candidate Gov. Perry defending the frequent Texas executions, offering assurances anyone put to death in his state has been properly found to be responsible for the crime.⇐   Overall, this is no Dead Man Walking (Tim Robbins, 1995)—a haunting masterpiece—but Trial ... generates its own impact, well worth your time to seek it out.

So What? Well, once again there were many alternatives to my moviegoing-time last weekend (annual Oakland Greek Festival at Ascension Cathedral—Opa!!; Golden State Warriors Western Conference basketball finals [Oakland-based reigning champs have now swept the series, 4-0—on to the NBA Finals!]; Oakland Athletics baseballers running rampant while visiting the Detroit Tigers [won 3 games, the 4th postponed—A’s ahead 5-3—until Sept., due to rules preventing a game to be called due to rain unless the home team gets to bat in the bottom of an inning that began in a tie—the case here—so when this wraps up in Oakland 4 months from now Detroit will be the “home” team for 2½ innings, followed by a regular game plus fireworks—marathon for the fans; since then the A's have also completed a 3-game-sweep of the Cleveland Indians!]), leaving me time for only 1 screening.  Because of a solid disinterest in what ended up as the weekend's-top 10-grossers (see Box Office Mojo for details)—except for Avengers: Endgame (Anthony and Joe Russo; review in our May 1, 2019 posting), now at $2.6 billion worldwide, not far behind Avatar (James Cameron, 2009), globally-#1-all-time at near $2.8 billion—I took a chance on Trial by Fire, despite its poor reviews (more details in the next section below), possibly because its Texas content is something I can relate to, possibly because it goes along with another true-life-Texas-crime-story (although one presented in much-more-comic-fashion), The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (Michael Ritchie, 1993) I’d watched recently on Netflix disc.  What I found in Trial ... was mostly emotionally-gripping, successfully managing to elicit sympathy for the type of guy I’d normally try my best to avoid in a store or a bar or even just on the street because his obnoxious nature would easily be cause for some sort of altercation, just because he’d be too drunk or uncaring to simply move on without starting some sort of argument.  Yet, the inequities he faced in both his initial trial and his attempts at appeal are clearly enough to draw out anger at this absurd brand of “justice” (especially with that sanctimonious statement on the righteous nature of the legal process in Texas at the end) being dished out to a guy whom almost everyone just easily assumed was guilty, despite little substantial evidence to verify such a verdict (for those who do see this well-under-the-radar-film, maybe there’ll also be some collateral-realization/verification of how rushed-to-judgment our arrest/trial/conviction-system can be, especially if the accused are poor and/or people of color).  I’m certainly not saying everyone accused of a crime is truly innocent—even when a jury votes “guilty”—but I am saying this film provides good reason to keep questioning the value of the death penalty, both because of conviction-errors and its apparent lack of success in deterring those types of crimes such final punishment’s intended to curtail due to fear of retribution.

 I’m also not saying I’m a complete opponent of the death penalty myself, although the number of felons whose convictions have been overturned in recent years, either through witness recantations or exoneration through DNA evidence, gives me serious pause as to how equitable this ultimate punishment may be, just as I have to agree with my thoughtful wife, Nina, on whether a life in prison without parole might well be a more just punishment for a heinous crime than simply snuffing out someone’s life in angry retaliation for the suffering a person has caused (a particular consideration for me, on account of a family circumstance I won’t go into here but one that encourages me to flip the electric-chair-switch on a currently-incarcerated-relative of mine, despite claims of innocence)—to give this controversial question further argument, California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chosen to suspend all executions while he’s in office, even though his moral stance butts up against a recent voter initiative preserving the death penalty in our state.  Certainly, any discussion of crime and punishment needs to take into account as much factual evidence as possible regarding who actually did what, a situation easily compounded by national or local law, often restricting decisions a jury can make.  (Again, I’m being specific: Years ago in Dallas I ended up on a murder-case-jury where a young man was charged with being part of a gang-type-killing of another young man, with a witness admitting he shoved a knife into the victim but testifying that the guy on trial also shared in the stabbing while the defendant admitted he was there that night but didn’t take part in the actual murder; however, according to Texas law [at least in the early 1980s, don’t know about today] simply being part of the circumstances of a felony renders you guilty even if you didn’t actually commit the specific crime, so we had no choice but to find the kid guilty, with our only decision being how many years he should spend in prison—a very difficult task, given it was just the word of one person against another as to whether this defendant actually did some brutal-butchery or not.)

 I realize all this personal connection on my part to death, accused crimes, jury decisions, and lingering-feelings afterward may easily have made me more inclined toward appreciating Zwick’s presentation of Willingham’s situation, but you can get a lot more detail if you wish (revealing, of course, the spoiler aspects of the film, so keep that in mind) if you consult this detailed account of the circumstances, trial, and aftermath of Todd’s case (some aspects may need more editing, but there’s also lots of documentation there, including charges—denied, of course—Gov. Perry changed 3 members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in order to to bury their findings of doubt about arson) plus this (admittedly, pro-Willingham) site (may take awhile to download*), further enhanced by this extensive PBS Frontline interview with Gilbert (curiously, she’s not mentioned in that first link noted just above).  From all this, you can clearly see Zwick’s perspective.

*You may find a problem connecting with this informative site, so please keep trying.  I've found it slowly downloads from this link on Google Chrome and Firefox but doesn't connect on Safari (don't know about any other Web browsers).  If that doesn't work, those browsers also accept direct URL http://camerontoddwillingham.comslowlybut Safari doesn't link with that process either.

Bottom Line Final Comments: As noted above, I had good reason based on existing evaluations of Trial by Fire to avoid it, with a restrained 59% cluster of positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes (one of their few such low numbers for anything both they and I have addressed from 2019—only What Men Want [Adam Shankman; review in our February 14, 2019 posting] and Dumbo [Tim Burton; review in our April 4, 2019 posting] coming in lower [46%, 48% respectively], although I'm more generous, awarding 3½ stars to all of them [but then, I'm more insightful than the average film critic, after all!]), an even-lower 51% average score at Metacriticmaking Trial … tied for second-lowest-scoring-2019-release mutually reviewed by them and me (What Men Want got 49%, Dumbo also at 51%).  Those pathetic results, plus this summation by the East Bay Express’s Kelly Vance (whom I normally trust), “Dern enthusiasts may find value, but there's an easier way to achieve the same effect: At 2:30 in the morning, pour yourself three fingers of whiskey and listen to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, paying close attention to each separate character. That way you'll get the point, and also miss Rick Perry's jerkwater rationale for the death penalty. Forget about Trial by Fire,” would normally be enough for me to just be lackadaisical last Saturday about getting out in our rare-May-rainfall to bother seeing anything (maybe I’d review my re-watching of the Marx Bros. in A Night at the Opera [Sam Wood, 1935] from Netflix earlier in the week just to have something for this Two Guys blog); yet, I was intrigued by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle (I usually trust him also, but we have had some notable differences of opinion) who said: “'Trial by Fire' is the rare case of a movie that’s actually better if you know how it ends. I watched it without knowing, and it made the experience worse. To believe you’re getting one movie when you’re getting another just sets up expectations that the film cannot match, simply because its intentions are in the complete opposite direction. […] So 'Trial by Fire' is the furthest thing from a human-interest story. Rather, it’s an impassioned polemic that arrives on screen at a charged political moment. It could have been made 10 years ago, except that its message could not possibly have had the same resonance: America isn’t working. And those systems put into place to avert disaster? Well, those are strained or failing.”  This time, Mick won me over for which I’m grateful; as for Kelly, who sees this film as “a routine hand-wringer about everyday American injustice,” we’ll just have to agree to disagree, although I’ll admit Trial … does come across as too melodramatic at times, especially in some prison visits by Elizabeth to Todd (dripping with unrequited romance, reminding me of similar-misplaced-affections between wrongly-convicted Chicano Henry Reyna [Daniel Valdez] and social justice-advocate Jew Alice Bloomfield [Tyne Daley] in Zoot Suit [Luis Valdez, 1981], but those misunderstandings were resolved in Zoot …’s plot, not left as unclarified intimations here in Trial …).

 As you might know by now (because, surely, you’re a regular reader of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark), I like to close each session of written commentary with a dose of insight from another medium, using a Musical Metaphor to speak to what’s just been reviewed; in this case a very likely candidate for such a Metaphor is Bob Dylan’s “Percy’s Song” (recorded during the sessions for his 1963 The Times They Are A-Changin’ album but not included on it, finally released on his 1985 triple-album, Biograph) at (seems to me to be the Biograph version, along with the lyrics in both English and Spanish if you’d like to hone your bilingualism) because it also deals with a man given a harsh sentence (“Joliet prison And ninety-nine years”) not in keeping with the actual circumstances of his event (deaths occurred but not by the conscious intent of the one arrested for a terrible crime—“he wouldn’t harm a life That belonged to someone else”), a legal system with little care for the convicted (“The judge spoke […] 'The witness who saw He left little doubt'”), an anguished friend who could do little but mourn the result (“I walked down the courthouse stairs And I did not understand”), as well as an impactful account of the situation, leaving this song's narrator (as with Elizabeth Gilbert) little solace except to acknowledge “Oh the Cruel Rain and the Wind” (there’s also a live performance version from Dylan’s 1963 Carnegie Hall concert where he acknowledged the tune was from Paul Clayton’s song “The Wind and the Rain,” although I don’t know if we ever learn who Percy was or what became of him).  Elizabeth Gilbert and others continue to fight for a posthumous reversal of Todd Willingham’s conviction just to set the record straight as they understand it, probably hoping this film might give more impetus for such a long-after-the-fact-correction, although from what I know of the criminal justice system in Texas I wouldn’t count on it (back in the 1960s when I lived there marijuana was classified as a narcotic so that possession could get you a life sentence, the main reason I never consumed any of the stuff in those days*; they’ve substantially lowered the penalties for pot there by now, although they execute far and away more felons than any other state, so proudly it seems).

*I still don’t, because as Hoyt Axton and David Jackson’s "No No Song" (Now, is this video a bit distorted or is what you're seeing the result of you just “tired of waking up on the floor”?) says, “No, thank you, please It only makes me sneeze And then it makes it hard to find the door.”  Whiskey, however, is a much different story, but Jack Daniel can tell it better than me, so take it away, Jack.

5/29/2019: I encourage you to scroll down to the Comments section at the very end of this posting to see a lot of counter-arguments recently submitted to me by Dudley Sharp against the film's position that Todd Willingham was innocent of the crimes for which he was executed.  I have no information beyond what's cited above to counter or debate his presentation as I'm no expert on this situation, so I encourage you to read it all, then decide for yourself what feels true to your mind.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Trial by Fire: (29:48 interview with director Edward Zwick, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, and actors Laura Dern, Jack O'Connell [begins with the same 
trailer just above])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.  You can also leave comments at our Facebook page, although you may have to somehow connect with us at that site in order to do it (most FB procedures are still a bit of a mystery to us old farts).

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 32,720 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. Ken:

    Happy to speak to you, anytime.


    To: All at Collider

    RE: Trial by Fire Review: The Feel-Lousy Movie of the Year, by Elinor Jones, Portland Mercury, May 21, 2019 at 9:29 am

    Rebuttal: "Trial By Fire" - The Guilt of Todd Willingham

    from: Dudley Sharp, 832-439-2113, give me a call.

    The wisdom of skepticism of "true" films/articles doesn't get nearly enough consideration and is a constant failure by movie reviewers, film festivals and entertainment and print editors.

    I am an expert on this case, as is the film's director, Zwick.

    All original sources, statements and fire forensics reports are included, herein, within the links. All of my statements are, easily, verified by original documents.

    First, the movie:

    Preface: 15 years, ago, based upon facts and reason, Stacy changed her mind and concluded that Todd murdered their 3 children. All knowledgeable parties are well aware.

    1) The film: The fire "experts" in Texas use folklore.

    Reality: A partnership of The Innocence Project and the Texas State Fire Marshall's Office, reviewed a thousand arson cases where there was a criminal conviction for that arson.

    One of those cases (0.1%), resulted in a reversal of the conviction, based upon inaccurate fire forensics . . . . 0.1%.

    2) The film: The 3 girls were burned to death in the fire.

    Reality: Untrue. Amber, the two year old was found, alive, by a firefighter, in Todd's bed. She was face down, tucked in and the bottoms of her feet were burned.The fire, never, entered that room.

    Todd said he was in that room, in that bed, when he became aware of the fire, giving multiple, conflicting statements about his interactions with Amber, as well as many other issues, with one constant - he kept changing his story, repeatedly and critically, as documented.

    The conflicts, with Todd's statements, are crucial and many, as documented. He lied and then he lied, as no one could doubt, having read his documented statements, as included.

    There were entrances and exits into that master bedroom,, aware from the fire, the entire time. Amber died at the hospital, from smoke inhalation.

    Todd confessed to several people that he, never, made any effort to save the children and that he lied within all his statements that he did try to save them, as documented.

    On at least two occasions, Todd opines that injuries to the girls may give officials reason to suspect him of being the arsonist, as documented.

    3) The film: The gas heater was not examined, by the original investigators, as a fire source.

    Reality: Only willfully idiocy would allow anyone to believe that.

    The gas heater was excluded, by those investigators, as the source of the fire and . . . . had to be . . . the gas had been turned off at the meter, so no gas, as documented.

    4) The film: Gov Perry stopped the commission from completing their investigation into this case.

    Reality: Untrue. Never happened.

    The commission's final report came out in 2011, 6 years before film production. Perry was governor until 2015.

    Only one arson marker, of many, were excluded from the investigators original assessment of arson, as documented, in that report, included.


  2. contd

    5) The film: It was inferred that prosecutor Jackson paid off a snitch to lie about Willingham's guilt.

    Reality: Jackson was put on trial, found not guilty, with a number of defense attorneys, including the Innocent Project, defending Jackson's integrity.

    All of this occurred prior to the beginning of production for the film, as Zwick well knows.

    Criminal defense counsel Kerri Anderson Donica “I’ve never known a man with more integrity than John Jackson. I said in my testimony if they needed to take his law license, they could take mine too. I believe in him that much . . .”

    Robert Hinton, Innocence Project said snitch Webb’s testimony was a “sociopathic story,” and Jackson is a man of “high character.”

    6) The film: The exculpatory evidence was ignored, prior to the execution.

    Reality: This deals with forensic fire expert Hurst's report, which did not and could not negate arson. Hurst, himself, stated that he could, never, exclude arson from a fire. It's an idiotic statement, but Hurst made it.

    In addition, Hurst excluded all the eyewitness testimony, when he knew it is a required foundation, within forensics, when available, and was, incredibly, important in the Willingham case, as documented within Paragraph 2, and throughout the case, as included.

    Gov. Perry and staff, the 9 members of the parole board and staff, the Attorney General and staff and prosecutors and staff all saw that Hurst left that out, on purpose, as he had to, if advocating for Willingham, which Hurst was.

    Commutation and delay were, unanimously, denied, as they had to be. The vote was 31-0, which is two votes against both commutation and reprieve, for the 15 member Board, plus the governor not allowing for a 90 day stay.

    All the state and federal courts denied a stay, based upon that same information.

    Contrary to the film's idiocy, there is no political price to pay, by delaying an execution. It happens all the time. NOTE: Texas executes about 0.7% of her murderers, after an average 14 years of appeals, with constant delays, inclusive of some cases 20-30 years old.

    It would be idiotic, political suicide for a Governor to, knowingly, allow an innocent to be executed and everyone knows it --- not to mention the moral/ethical horror which Gov. Perry and staff, the 9 members of the parole board and staff, the Attorney General and staff and prosecutors and staff would all have to agree to endure for such a sick conspiracy to go forward.

    It's, obvious, nonsense that such is what occurred and no evidence, factual or political, supports it, as detailed.

    All the state and federal courts, also, denied a stay, based upon that same information.

    7) In an interview, Zwick stated that there was violence on both sides, meaning from Stacy and Todd, both.

    This is a grotesque allegation, against Stacy. Todd was, constantly, violent, acknowledged by everyone. Stacy was not.

    The only known violence from Stacy was self defense.

    Two weeks, prior to the fire, Todd had beaten Stacy with a telephone, to the point of near unconsciousness. She bit his arm and wouldn't let go, as a means of protecting herself. She was in the process of calling 911 to report his battering her, which is why the phone. This was the first time he beat her while she was holding one of their children. As a result of that incident, Stacy told Todd that she was getting a divorce. Her thinking was that if he beats me while holding our child, it will not be long before he starts beating the children.

    That was two weeks before the fire. The day before the fire, December 22, Stacy reiterated that she was divorcing him, after Christmas.

    Not sure if Zwick's statements will sit well with the "Me Too" folks.


  3. contd


    Rebuttal: "Trial by Fire" - The Guilt Of Todd Willingham

    sent to: see bottom

    From: Dudley Sharp, 832-439-2113,


    There was zero suppression of evidence, except that within the movie and article "Trial By Fire", as detailed.

    In the Willingham triple murder/arson case, a review of the The Texas Forensic Science Commission report finds that that all fire forensic markers for arson, save one, may have been accurate, as determined by the original fire investigators (3)."

    "None of the many conclusions for arson, with the exception of crazed glass, could be excluded from the assessments of the original Texas fire experts, the only investigators who examined the physical evidence (3)."

    "The later assessments, critical of the original investigation, had no access to any of the physical evidence from the fire, overlooked critical eyewitness testimony, as well as additional fact details, and could not exclude arson (3)."

    "Combining the forensic fire evidence with eyewitness testimony, inclusive of that by Todd Willingham, the case for arson is solid (3)."

    The Innocence Project and the Texas State Fire Marshal’s office, together, reviewed over 1,000 Texas arson cases in which someone was held criminally responsible (1).

    The findings, through 5/2019: 1 case out of that 1000 has resulted in an exoneration based upon flawed forensics (2).

    0.1%. Keep that in mind.

    We, now, know, that Willingham wasn't stopping to save the twins. Why not save Amber? His intention was to murder her and them, not save anyone. That's the only credible explanation, confirmed by the statements of eyewitnesses, including Todd.

    After Willingham left the house, he had plenty of time and plenty of doors and windows, for reentry, away from the fire, to save Amber. He had no intention of doing so. How do we know? Because he had every opportunity to do so and didn't and he told us so.

    Complete review:

    Rebuttal: "Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?"

    Sent To: since 8/2017, with continuous updates

    To: All Major Film Critic Associations & Film Festivals
    Entertainment Reporters and Sites & Crime Reporters
    Edward Zwick and his Bedford Falls Production
    Roadside Attractions, distributor
    Flashlight Films' Allyn Stewart & Kipp Nelson
    Kathryn Dean and Marshall Herskovitz, executive producers
    The New Yorker & David Grann
    Actors Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern
    Screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher
    Vickie Thomas Casting
    George Polk Award Committee &
    Long Island U - Brooklyn, Faculty, Directors, Deans & Chairs of Journalism & Communications

  4. Hi Dudley, Thanks for this extensive commentary (sorry I didn't get it posted sooner; somehow it got lost in my Moderation file). You make a very convincing case here to which I have no reply given that you're citing evidence which you've clearly researched while all I've got to go by is the film itself and articles such as the ones I noted that are in support of the film's conclusions. Thanks again for making this a more balanced presentation.

  5. Dudley, I've also added a note at the bottom of the review commentary calling attention to your presentation of all this information for the benefit of any readers who'll later come across this review.