Probably the best thing about writing that column was the sheer amount of great, great journalism I got to read. The Chicago Tribune series is incredible and classic even ten years later. Incendiary is a gripping fact-based explanation, not just of fire science, but how the science that convicted Willingham was wrong. It's one of the most sober debunkings I've ever seen. I don't think there's much more we can say about David Grann's piece that hasn't been said already. Obviously it was essential.
Only about one in a hundred killings ends up as a death penalty case. Who decides? The local district attorney. What does he base his decision on? There's no simple answer. Prosecutors have enormous discretion and are accountable to no one, except to the voters who elect them. You might think that politics would cause all DAs to be death penalty advocates, but this is not borne out by the facts. Since 1976, only 116 of Texas' 254 counties (fewer than half) have sentenced a person to death; more than half the counties (138) have never sent anyone to death row.