Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Film-maker Werner Herzog decries capital punishment at “Abyss” premiere

Werner Herzog
Acclaimed director Werner Herzog came out strongly against capital punishment at the premiere of his anticipated doc Into the Abyss in Toronto last night, telling attendees that no one from his generation who remembered the Nazi era could support the death penalty.

Herzog was met by a standing ovation as he took to the stage at the packed Ryerson Theatre for the premiere of his film, which launched on the 1st day of the Toronto International Film Festival.

The director told the crowd he wanted to make his position on the death sentence clear from the start. “I’m not an advocate of capital punishment,” he said. “I’m against it, but I don’t even have an argument – I have a story; the story of Nazi Germany.”

Herzog pointed to the huge numbers of people executed by the state during the Nazi reign of Germany – people executed for their religion, for being handicapped, or for being foreigners.

“No one from my generation, none of my peers, is for capital punishment,” he added. “It’s as simple as that.”

As for the inmates he had spoken to on death row: “None of them are monsters. The crimes are monstrous, but people are human beings.”

Herzog said that he was continuing to shoot material for the TV version of Into the Abyss, which will air on Investigation Discovery in the U.S. next year, and said that yesterday [Wednesday] he had been in Livingston, Texas, filming a man on death row who had killed a police officer. “It’s kind of grim work,” he admitted.

Of the series, Herzog said each episode of the TV version would be more focused “on one single person, and only a little bit on the crime,” adding that the overall series would be “much more coherent” than the film.

He also added that, despite the heaviness of talking with so many victims and murderers, it had not really changed his life. “When you film, you have just 50 minutes with an inmate, so you have to perform,” he explained. “But when you’re in the editing room, it’s then that the weight is on you.”

One side-effect of the intense filming: “Both Joe [Bini, the film's editor] and I had given up smoking years ago – we have started smoking again,” he said.

Source: realscreen.com, September 10, 2011

Related article:
"Into the Abyss", Werner Herzog's new documentary about Michael Perry's execution in Texas last year, The New York Times, September 6, 2011

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