David Grann’s “Trial By Fire” in the current New Yorker is long, 17-pages long to be exact, and on the despressing side. But it’s everything great journalism/feature writing should be. The story of an innocent man who was put to death in Texas is a must read. Print it out, take it to the bathroom, put it on the nightstand.
By now, both investigators had a clear vision of what had happened. Someone had poured liquid accelerant throughout the children’s room, even under their beds, then poured some more along the adjoining hallway and out the front door, creating a “fire barrier” that prevented anyone from escaping; similarly, a prosecutor later suggested, the refrigerator in the kitchen had been moved to block the back-door exit. The house, in short, had been deliberately transformed into a death trap.
The investigators collected samples of burned materials from the house and sent them to a laboratory that could detect the presence of a liquid accelerant. The lab’s chemist reported that one of the samples contained evidence of “mineral spirits,” a substance that is often found in charcoal-lighter fluid. The sample had been taken by the threshold of the front door.
The fire was now considered a triple homicide, and Todd Willingham—the only person, besides the victims, known to have been in the house at the time of the blaze—became the prime suspect.