"It takes balls to execute an innocent man." That appalling line (allegedly) uttered by a voter in support of Texas governor and now GOP presidential contender Rick Perry has dragged the infuriating, tragic case of Todd Cameron Willingham -- executed in 2004 for a deadly arson he almost certainly did not commit -- back into the national spotlight. Now, this sort of thing isn't typically Decibel's wheelhouse, and if readers are interested in, say, flawed fire science or the need for bifurcated trials in capital cases, then there are other outlets better suited to your inquiries and perusals. Nevertheless, the epic David Grann New Yorker article that originally called Willingham's conviction into question does throw up a red flag or two for heavy metal fans:
Though only the babysitter had appeared as a witness for the defense during the main trial, several family members, including Stacy, testified during the penalty phase, asking the jury to spare Willingham’s life. When Stacy was on the stand, Jackson grilled her about the “significance” of Willingham’s “very large tattoo of a skull, encircled by some kind of a serpent.”
“It’s just a tattoo,” Stacy responded.
“He just likes skulls and snakes. Is that what you’re saying?”
“No. He just had—he got a tattoo on him.”
The prosecution cited such evidence in asserting that Willingham fit the profile of a sociopath, and brought forth two medical experts to confirm the theory. Neither had met Willingham. One of them was Tim Gregory, a psychologist with a master’s degree in marriage and family issues, who had previously gone goose hunting with Jackson, and had not published any research in the field of sociopathic behavior. His practice was devoted to family counselling.
At one point, Jackson showed Gregory Exhibit No. 60 -- a photograph of an Iron Maiden poster that had hung in Willingham’s house -- and asked the psychologist to interpret it. “This one is a picture of a skull, with a fist being punched through the skull,” Gregory said; the image displayed “violence” and “death.” Gregory looked at photographs of other music posters owned by Willingham. “There’s a hooded skull, with wings and a hatchet,” Gregory continued. “And all of these are in fire, depicting -- it reminds me of something like Hell. And there’s a picture -- a Led Zeppelin picture of a falling angel...I see there’s an association many times with cultive-type of activities. A focus on death, dying. Many times individuals that have a lot of this type of art have interest in satanic-type activities.”
Yes, that would be the "Can I Play With Madness?" design, I believe -- which, incidentally, also adorned the T-shirt I wore to school virtually every day of seventh grade without setting any fires or murdering a single innocent. It just goes to show how aesthetic preferences can be used against individuals with certain niche or transgressive interests -- if that's the sort of hay a "family counseller" could make out of a Maiden poster imagine the field day they'd have with most Decibel readers' record collections! The bullet Damien Echols just dodged was all-too real, friends, and the bona fides of many of today's loudest "small government" boosters are, as Radley Balko notes, questionable at best. And I say that as someone who actually would prefer to see most of the little bureaucratic beasts spawned by the warfare-welfare state drowned in a bathtub.
After the jump, the Maiden video in honor of our railroaded metal militiaman and the preview for the upcoming documentary Incendiary: The Willingham Case.