“Incendiary: The Willingham Case” is a frequently unsettling account of how dubious “science” possibly led to an irreversible miscarriage of justice. Specifically, doc deals with the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted for the 1991 arson murders of his three young children in Corsicana, Texas, and executed in 2004, despite serious doubts raised about the prosecution’s evidence. Technically unspectacular but consistently interesting, pic will play best with pubcast and cable viewers.
Willingham, an unpleasant fellow with a history of domestic violence, was accused of setting the house fire that killed his kids. But filmmakers Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr. gather convincing testimony from forensic experts who insist that, at the time of Willingham’s trial, largely unregulated arson investigators customarily offered semi-educated guesses with scant scientific basis. Since Willingham’s execution, some of those experts have pressed claims that the fatal fire was an accident. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is depicted throughout doc as impeding investigators. But Willingham’s own defense attorney repeatedly asserts that, whatever the reliability of the evidence, a guilty man paid for his crime. “Incendiary” leaves it up to viewers to decide whether justice was served.