True crime is all the rage in 2019. From documentaries to TV miniseries to podcasts, true crime is everywhere, with stories of kidnapping, murder, wrongful convictions and more. No matter what fascinates you, be it famous cold cases or lesser-known crimes, there’s plenty to choose from.
This May, true crime is heading back to the big screen in a serious way, with an incredibly powerful story based on one of the most famous cases in recent history. With a phenomenal cast of stars, TRIAL BY FIRE examines the story of a Texas man who may have been wrongfully convicted of murdering his young daughters. This is the story of his heartbreaking case and the filmmakers and stars who are bringing this important story to a wider audience.
Down in Flames
On December 23, 1991, a mysterious fire consumed the Corsicana, Texas, home of Cameron Todd Willingham. He was the 23-year-old father of three young daughters: 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron. When the fire started, Stacy Kuykendall, Willingham’s wife and the mother of his children, was out shopping for Christmas presents, while Willingham was taking a nap. Willingham was able to escape the fire, but all three of the couple’s daughters tragically died.
Prosecutors quickly moved to pin the fire on Willingham, accusing him of starting the blaze in an attempt to hide his abuse of the girls. Kuykendall testified that Willingham had never harmed the girls, but the prosecutors plunged ahead, building a case using forensic analysis. In the years since, many of the methods used to determine the cause of the fire have come to be known as “junk science” — meaning they have no basis in actual, scientific fact.
Willingham was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1992. That conviction was based in part on a flawed arson investigation and testimony from two unreliable people. One was a jailhouse informant who often changed his story; the other was a psychiatrist who later had his credentials revoked for repeated unethical conduct.
In 2009, five years after Willingham was executed in Texas, the Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker published extensive investigative reports into the methods used to convict Willingham, whom many believe to have been innocent. Willingham’s case has inspired documentaries, articles and many episodes of TV shows. It is still viewed as one of the most horrific acts of injustice in recent memory.
From Front Page to Big Screen
This May, TRIAL BY FIRE brings the heartbreaking story of Cameron Todd Willingham to the big screen. Based on journalist David Grann’s acclaimed New Yorker article of the same name, TRIAL BY FIRE stars Jack O’Connell (UNBROKEN) as Willingham. Laura Dern (“Big Little Lies”) co-stars as Elizabeth Gilbert, a poet and school teacher who befriends Willingham on death row and sets out to investigate his case and prove his innocence.
Emily Meade (“The Deuce”) plays Stacy, Willingham’s wife, and Jeff Perry (“Scandal”) plays the pivotal role of Gerald Hurst — the brilliant arson expert who blew the door wide open on the mishandling of the evidence in Willingham’s case. Directed by Edward Zwick (THE LAST SAMURAI) and written by Geoffrey Fletcher (PRECIOUS), the film takes a closer look at one of the most devastating crime cases ever. It’s a reminder that true crime is much more than a binge-watch.
TRIAL BY FIRE comes to AMC on May 17.