Small Town Expertise.

David Martin, the trial attorney for the executed Cameron Todd Willingham, said Willingham was guilty on Anderson Cooper’s 360 and dismissed as biased the science debunking the “science” that determined the fire was arson. While plenty of experts have called the arson investigators’ work mysticism and folklore, the fire investigator who found evidence of arson has basically dismissed them as lab rats who have never tackled a real fire. It’s similar to the argument Martin seems to be making here. His main point is that he’s been a trial attorney for 25 years, and that’s pretty much all he says in his defense.

Which might be the biggest problem when you’re talking about a major crime investigated in these small towns. College attendance rates in rural areas, especially in the south, lag behind the national average. So, in general, you have a population that would have more on-the-job experience than education in adulthood, and it’s hard to imagine that the population doesn’t value experience over book-learning. Hence the kind of populism that George W. Bush rode to the White House twice. It also may explain the “backfire effect” studies have found causing conservatives to believe their views more strongly when presented with evidence that shows its false.

Either way, if Cameron Todd Willingham’s case shows us anything, it’s that men like the prosecutor, who believed Willingham was a bad guy because he liked heavy metal music, have a lot of power in these places. And it’s not always true that they represent the best and the brightest.

  • geo

    There is so much wrong in that interview. The defense attorney seemed to have disregarded his obligation to fight diligently for his client, and asserted guilt based on an unscientific evidence. It’s quite frightening. I’m no lawyer, but his actions appear unethical.

  • quadmoniker

    I think it probably is. I mean, if you think the evidence shows your clients guilty then you can tell him the evidence against him is strong and advise him as to whether the plea bargain offered is a good deal, but you can’t do this.