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Innocence
The death penalty puts innocent people at risk of execution.
Todd Willingham
Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed under Governor Rick Perry on February 17, 2004.
Co-Director Joe Bailey Jr

We attended the DVD release party of “Incendiary: The Willingham Case” tonight at the Violet Crown in Austin.

The award-winning documentary INCENDIARY:  THE WILLINGHAM CASE is now available on Apple’s iTunes Movie Store and DVD

INCENDIARY follows a tragic tale that started with a 1991 house fire that resulted in the deaths of Cameron Todd Willingham’s three daughters in a Corsicana, Texas.  Convicted largely on faulty arson evidence, Willingham was sentenced to death for the murder of his children.  Despite overwhelming expert criticism of the prosecution’s “junk science,” he was executed in 2004.  Subsequent investigations of the case landed the Willingham case into the national spotlight, made brighter and more intense by the presidential campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Equal parts murder mystery, forensic investigation and political drama, INCENDIARY explores both the intricate arson forensics surrounding the case and the polarized public responses to Willingham’s execution.  Co-directors Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr. bring a unique combination of filmmaking and legal backgrounds to the film.
“It’s a riddle and a brainteaser of a film that asks you to figure out who is telling the truth and why,” said Mims.  While Willingham’s death has become a call for reform in forensics and a rallying cry for the anti-death penalty movement, he remains an indisputable “monster” in the eyes of Governor Perry, who ignored the science that could have saved Willingham’s life.  
“We set out to make a film that sticks to the facts of the original event and the scientific evidence surrounding the case,” said Bailey.  “We had no other cause.  But with the inevitable injection of politics into the story, the film needed to pull back the curtain on some rough and ready political hardball.”  
Winner of the 2011 Louis Black South by Southwest Award, INCENDIARY garnered critical acclaim in limited theatrical release.  Anne Hornaday of the Washington Post wrote: “Nonfiction filmmaking at its most classic.  Crime, punishment, morality and hardball politics make for an explosive narrative mix all their own.” “Alarming viewing for anyone who cares about the American justice system,” wrote Sheri Linden for the Los Angeles Times.  Art Levine of the Huffington Post called INCENDIARY:  “A gripping, visually stunning indictment of a miscarriage of justice as great as that chronicled in Errol Morris’s groundbreaking THE THIN BLUE LINE.” 
INCENDIARY:  THE WILLINGHAM CASE is available for rental or purchase on Apple’s iTunes store and on DVD via incendiarymovie.com.
For more information on INCENDIARY and the Willingham case, visit INCENDIARYMOVIE.COM.
Co-Director Steve Mims (middle)

From an email from Charlie Baird, who is challenging Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg in the Democratic Primary:

“Why don’t you just hush?”

Last night, at a community meeting to discuss the shooting of Byron Carter, Jr. by an Austin Police Officer, that’s what my opponent said to me when I tried to expose some of the hypocrisy of the District Attorney’s office related to its grand jury process in high profile cases.

After the story about last night’s meeting came out in today’s Austin American-Statesman, my e-mail inbox and my voicemail have been filling up with folks contacting me about this. They simply cannot believe that our incumbent District Attorney is so frightened of her true record being exposed that she would stoop to such levels. They cannot believe that a public servant–who answers to the voters—would actually try and ‘hush’ debate about her job performance.

I could not agree more—and I’ll tell you something else: I will not ‘hush.’

Throughout my career as a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, as a law professor, and as a judge on the 299th District Court here in Travis County, I’ve never been one to ‘hush’ when I see something wrong with our legal system.

Travis County does not have a criminal justice system that reflects the values and standards of the people of Travis County.

The average person in this county does not accept the fact that it has taken almost a full year for a grand jury to address a police officer shooting an unarmed civilian. The average person in this county does not agree with the fact that our DA’s office does not operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week like it does in other cities. The average person in this county does not agree with the fact that a state representative can simply get five years probation–and still keep his taxpayer funded pension and simply reimburse his campaign account–while a parent is tried as a felon for stealing diapers for their child.

Throughout the course of this campaign, I have talked about bringing justice that works to Travis County. Justice that works isn’t a justice system where critics of the system are told to ‘hush.’ It is a transparent system that takes input from the community and reflects the values of the people on whose behalf justice is administered. That’s the kind of justice system we’ll have when I’m District Attorney.

Sincerely,

Charlie Baird

A Williamson County jury  has sentenced a man convicted of capital murder to life without parole, instead of death. The rejection of a death sentence is part of a nationwide decline in death sentences, as well as a major decline in Texas. In 2011, only 8 people were sentenced to death in Texas. In the late 1990’s almost 40 people were sentenced to death each year. More and more people serving on juries are now rejecting death sentences and choosing life without parole. One reason why death sentences are in decline is that people who serve on juries are members of the public who have read about all the problems in the death penalty system.

Bobby Burks Jr. was convicted last week of the robbery and fatal shooting of 18-year-old Raul Vizueth Torres, whom he ambushed on a Williamson County road in April 2010.

To impose the death penalty, the jury had to decide that Burks poses a future danger to society and that there are no mitigating circumstances in his case. One of the prosecutors, Jane Starnes, said this morning in closing arguments that Burks’ criminal history showed he would be a future threat.

More from the Austin-American Statesman.

AUSTIN, Texas – The award-winning documentary INCENDIARY:  THE WILLINGHAM CASE marks its release on Apple’s iTunes Movie Store and DVD with a release party and screening at Austin’s Violet Crown Cinema (434 W. 2nd. Street) on Wednesday, February 22 at 7:00pm.

Purchasers of a ticket to the screening will get a 50% discount on an autographed DVD and a free autographed poster.  The screening reception begins at 6:00pm and the filmmakers will host a post-screening question and answer session.  Tickets may be purchased online at violetcrowncinema.com and four hours of free garage parking is included.

INCENDIARY follows a tragic tale that started with a 1991 house fire that resulted in the deaths of Cameron Todd Willingham’s three daughters in a Corsicana, Texas.  Convicted largely on faulty arson evidence, Willingham was sentenced to death for the murder of his children.  Despite overwhelming expert criticism of the prosecution’s “junk science,” he was executed in 2004.  Subsequent investigations of the case landed the Willingham case into the national spotlight, made brighter and more intense by the presidential campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Equal parts murder mystery, forensic investigation and political drama, INCENDIARY explores both the intricate arson forensics surrounding the case and the polarized public responses to Willingham’s execution.  Co-directors Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr. bring a unique combination of filmmaking and legal backgrounds to the film.

“It’s a riddle and a brainteaser of a film that asks you to figure out who is telling the truth and why,” said Mims.  While Willingham’s death has become a call for reform in forensics and a rallying cry for the anti-death penalty movement, he remains an indisputable “monster” in the eyes of Governor Perry, who ignored the science that could have saved Willingham’s life.  

“We set out to make a film that sticks to the facts of the original event and the scientific evidence surrounding the case,” said Bailey.  “We had no other cause.  But with the inevitable injection of politics into the story, the film needed to pull back the curtain on some rough and ready political hardball.”  

Winner of the 2011 Louis Black South by Southwest Award, INCENDIARY garnered critical acclaim in limited theatrical release.  Anne Hornaday of the Washington Post wrote: “Nonfiction filmmaking at its most classic.  Crime, punishment, morality and hardball politics make for an explosive narrative mix all their own.” “Alarming viewing for anyone who cares about the American justice system,” wrote Sheri Linden for the Los Angeles Times.  Art Levine of the Huffington Post called INCENDIARY:  “A gripping, visually stunning indictment of a miscarriage of justice as great as that chronicled in Errol Morris’s groundbreaking THE THIN BLUE LINE.” 

INCENDIARY:  THE WILLINGHAM CASE will be available for rental or purchase on Apple’s iTunes store and on DVD viaincendiarymovie.com on Wednesday, February 22, 2012. 

For more information on INCENDIARY and the Willingham case, visit INCENDIARYMOVIE.COM.

Violet Crown Cinema is a locally owned and operated cinema with four screens devoted to independent, documentary and international films.  www.violetcrowncinema.com

xxx

For more information or to schedule an interview please contact:

Co-Directors Joe Bailey, Jr. 713.724.2306 or Steve Mims 512.750.4672 or write: filmmakers@incendiarymovie.com

For a complete press kit, please visit http://www.incendiarymovie.com

Recommends Court of Inquiry into Misconduct That Contributed to Morton’s Wrongful Murder Conviction

Contact:  Paul Cates, 212/364-5346, cell 917-566-1294 pcates@innocenceproject.org

(Austin, TX; February 10, 2012) —  Today a Texas Judge ruled that there is probable cause to believe that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson violated state criminal law by refusing to turn over evidence that contributed to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton.  Judge Sid Harle remanded the case to the Chief Judge of the Texas Supreme Court with the recommendation that the state convene a court of inquiry to look into possible prosecutorialmisconduct that caused Morton to serve 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

“As Mr. Morton’s case so painfully illustrates, tragic consequences can result when prosecutors put aside their ethical obligations in their zeal to win convictions, yet far too often their misdeeds go unpunished,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.  “Hopefully Judge Harle’s ruling today will serve as a reminder that no one is above the law.”

Today’s ruling comes in response to a report submitted by the Innocence Project asking the court to recommend a court of inquiry, a unique Texas legal procedure that can be initiated by a judge, to investigate whether Anderson  committed wrongdoing by refusing to turn over to the trial court as ordered evidence pointing to Morton’s innocence.  Morton always maintained that his wife’s murder was committed by a third party intruder.  The Innocence Project conducted depositions with key witnesses and uncovered other evidence showing that Anderson did not turn over the transcript of the victim’s mother telling lead investigator Sgt. Don Wood that Morton’s three-year-old son told her that Morton was not the attacker, a message to Wood dated two days after the murder reporting that what appeared to be the victim’s Visa card was recovered at a store in San Antonio, and a report from a neighbor observing someone staking out the Morton’s house before the murder.

Morton’s defense attorneys suspected all along that the prosecution was in possession of evidence pointing to Morton’s innocence because of the prosecution’s unusual decision not to call its lead investigator Sgt. Don Woods at trial.  The defense raised these concerns with the trial judge who ordered Anderson to turn over all of the reports by Woods so that he could conduct a review of the reports.  Although Anderson has repeatedly claimed to have no recollection of his prosecution of Morton, Anderson claimed for the first time in his deposition that his understanding of the trial judge’s order was that he turn over only those reports by Woods dealing with Morton’s statements.

This explanation contradicts all other participants’ understanding of the judge’s order and the judge’s own handwritten notes on the pre-trial hearing docket which state: “Court to conduct in camera [in chambers] inspection of report of officer Don Wood in connection with D[efendant’]s Brady motion.”

“As Mr. Morton has said, revenge is a natural instinct, but it’s not our goal here,” said Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project. “Our goal is to ensure that no one has to suffer like Mr. Morton and the other people whose lives were destroyed in this case.”

Morton is represented by Scheck and Morrison at the Innocence Project, John Raley with Raley & Bowick in Houston, TX, and Gerry Goldstein and Cynthia Orr with Goldstein, Goldstein & Hilley in San Antonio, TX.

##

Paul Cates

Director of Communications

Innocence Project, Inc. 40 Worth Street; Ste. 701 New York, New York 10013 212.364.5346 (tel) 212.364.5341 (fax) pcates@innocenceproject.org

www.innocenceproject.org

Innocence Project on Facebook: http://www.facebook/innocenceproject

Innocence Project on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/innocenceblog

 

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