On Sunday, Stacy Kuykendall — the ex-wife of Cameron Todd Willingham — gave her first public statement in years. She provided a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in which she reiterated that, when she met with Willingham on death row just before his 2004 execution, he confessed to starting the 1991 fire that killed their three daughters.
(If you don’t know the details of Willingham’s case, click here.)
The supposed confession is highly problematic. Kuykendall’s story keeps changing. I sympathize with Kuykendall. She experienced unspeakable tragedy. But it’s hard to trust what she’s saying now.
If we had a recording of Willingham confessing, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, only two people know what was said that day. One of them is dead. The other keeps changing her account.
So my advice is this: ignore the whole damn episode.
The notion of a death row confession is enticing. But there are no answers here. It’s a bottomless hole.
If you’re truly interested in trying to figure this out, I wrote about the problems with the supposed confession here. David Grann at the New Yorker has an even more detailed breakdown.
We shouldn’t be re-trying Willingham. The case is irrevocably closed.
But many other people likely were convicted on similarly flawed arson evidence. (I’ve found three of them in a series of stories on faulty arson convictions). We should learn what we can about how and why Willingham was convicted on such bad evidence and then look for innocent people still in jail on bogus arson convictions.