I have just finished reading journalist, David Grann’s blood-chilling article TRIAL BY FIRE  (The New Yorker Magazine, Sept 7, 2009) which leaves NO DOUBT that an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham,  was executed in 2004, in a Texas prison FOR A CRIME HE DID NOT COMMIT.. (Worse, no crime even occurred!)

I would recommend that every visitor to my website (both pro and con death penalty) take the time to read this exceptionally well-documented account of how an innocent man was convicted, imprisoned and executed. This is the first time to my knowledge that the actual innocence has been established post-execution. 

This story says it all.  And, it is exactly the reason why I, a 42-year veteran criminal investigator (24-years for the prosecution and 23-years for the defense)  with three-hundred murder investigations under my belt – have for four decades been personally and adamantly opposed to the death penalty.

I can only hope that Cameron’s death was not in vain and will help to finally SPARK AND AWAKEN OUR NATION TO THE NEED TO ABOLISH THIS BARBARIC PRACTICE.  

Please refer or forward  David Grann’s New Yorker article to your friends to help spread the word.


Steve Hodel #11394 

LAPD Hollywood Homicide (ret.)



Trial by Fire

Did Texas execute an innocent man?

by David Grann September 7, 2009  

Cameron Todd Willingham in his cell on death row 1994.jpg

Cameron Todd Willingham in his cell on death row, in 1994. He insisted upon his innocence in the deaths of his children and refused an offer to plead guilty in return for a life sentence. Photograph by KEN LIGHT.


Innocence Project/New Yorker link



  1. Dan Hand on August 31, 2009 at 7:32 pm


  2. Karen Conrad on September 2, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Steve- NPR did a segment on this just this evening- interviewing Mr. Grann too briefly- this turned into a classic “driveway” moment for me! Given the number of exonerations in Texas’ rape cases I can well imagine this isn’t the only one out there. Good article- thanks.

  3. MBurt76 on September 19, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    This is a disturbing case, and there are so many more like it. I am not opposed to the death penalty, and often enough I want to see it sought by prosecutors. I also feel that our law enforcement officers and prosecutors get it right the vast majority of the time. Still, situations like this, and so many more that have come to light in recent years are truly troubling. Reading Grisham’s book The Innocent Man was deeply troubling. The more I have read about the sheer volume of cases where innocent men are covicted, the more I worry about the effect. We now know that not only do too many bad guys get off on the fabled technicality, but clearly, too many innocents are convicted as well. MB

  4. Steve Hodel on September 19, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    I agree. We are getting much better, and are light-years ahead of where we were in the 1940s and 50s, but still have a lot of work to do. A recent article in USA Today spoke of recent changes in police procedures re. showing witnesses line-ups and how to present photographs without unduly influencing the witnesses. This will help. I continue to be haunted by a very personal horror-story, which you can read about in a chapter of MOST EVIL to publish on Tuesday. SKH

  5. MBurt76 on September 25, 2009 at 11:48 am

    It is a very good chapter, too. The tactics used by LE in that case were despicable. They beat Heirens, interrogated him for days without break, threatened him with the ‘sure and certain death penalty’, posed him for the media climbing out the window at a victim’s home…all this to a scared 17 year old kid whose father had beaten him for years. OF course he eventually confessed. I’d like to see what most of us would do in that circumstance. The worst part of this is that a man served a lifetime in prison and the real killer was set free. Thanks for a very informative and detailed chapter on this in Most Evil. MB

  6. Steve Hodel on September 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    MB- Obviously this comment was meant to refer to my newly published book MOST EVIL as relates to the William Heirens chapters. But, since I don’t have a category for that here, I’ll post it here for now.

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