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death by fire

FEATURED LESSON PLAN: DID TEXAS EXECUTE AN INNOCENT MAN?

 

Overview:

In this lesson, students will examine evidence used in a 1994 case to convict Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for the arson-murder of his three young daughters. Students will also review a later study that re-examined the evidence and determined that arson was not involved. Finally, students will judge for themselves whether or not the state proved its case against Willingham. For primary source documents and other background materials on this case, please see Related Resources.

 

Subject Area:

Social Studies, Civics, Law

 

Grade Level:

Grades 9-12

 

Objectives:

The student will:

  • Consider evidence presented in an arson-murder trial and a re-examination of that evidence years later
  • Compare and contrast the findings of these investigations
  • Evaluate whether the state proved its case against the defendant

 

Estimated Time Needed:

One 50-minute class period. For classrooms able to spend more time or that need additional background, please see the teaching strategies outlined in the Lesson Extensions.

 

Materials Needed:

 

Procedure:

 

  • Divide the class into small groups of 3-4 students.

  • Distribute the student handout “The State’s Case” to all students.

  • Have students watch Chapter 2: ”The State’s Case” (length: 8:43) and respond to the questions on the handout. Then have the student groups briefly discuss the questions listed at the end of the handout.

  • Repeat this process with a second video chapter. Distribute the student handout “Re-examining the Evidence” to all students.

  • Have students view Chapter 5: “Re-examining the Evidence” (length: 11:18) and take notes on the handout as they watch. Again, have student groups briefly consider the discussion questions at the end of the handout.

  • Pass out the third student handout, “Analyzing the Case,” to all students. Have student groups compare and contrast the evidence presented in the two video clips. Then ask each group to evaluate whether or not the state proved its case against Willingham.

  • After the groups have completed their handout, have them report their findings to the class.

 

 

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