This video and transcript from the 2010 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Conference cover the presentations of a panel that addressed how unscientific principles of arson investigation led to the wrongful conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 1991.
Based on the erroneous conclusions and testimony of the fire investigator in the case, Willingham was found guilty of the murders of his three children, who could not escape the fire. Only after his execution did an expert in the science of fire dynamics conclusively determine that the fire was not arson. One of the panelists - David Grann, a staff writer with "The New Yorker" - wrote an in-depth article that examined the questions surrounding the Willingham case, cataloging the case from initial investigation to trial and from the first appeal to the final plea. Another panelist - John Lentini, president and principal investigator with Scientific Arson Analysis - critiques the flawed principles of fire dynamics used in the Willingham case and argues for the grounding of fire analysis in scientific studies that examine fire patterns under a variety of conditions and causes. A third presenter - Dr. Itiel Dror, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University College of London - speaks about his NIJ-sponsored research that has investigated expert error and cognitive difficulty, as well as the impact of technological contextual information on cognitive processes of investigators. The fourth presenter - Michael Logan Ware, the Chief of the Special Fields Bureau in the Dallas County District Attorney's Office - talks about his experience in case reviews that have identified evidence that points to new or additional perpetrators in cases of wrongful convictions.
Date Published: June 1, 2010