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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Gordon Brown drawn into Commonwealth row over laws to punish homosexuals

Gordon Brown was last night drawn into a row over laws punishing homosexuals with death that threatened to overshadow a meeting of Commonwealth leaders. The Prime Minister raised the issue of proposed new laws in Uganda with the country's president Yoweri Museveni. Mr Brown made it clear to him that he was opposed to the laws when the 2 men met in Trinidad.

The country's plans have caused a backlash from other Commonwealth nations and condemnation from gay rights groups who want Uganda thrown out of the Commonwealth unless they back down.

Uganda's parliament is proposing an Anti-Homosexuality Bill which requires the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" defined as any sexual act between gays or lesbians in which one person has the HIV virus.

Life sentences would be imposed on those who touch another with the intention to have homosexual relations.

The bill would even apply to Ugandans who commit homosexual offences, but who live overseas.

A series of other offences in the new legislation, which is being piloted by a government MP and being given parliamentary time by President Museveni, include belonging to homosexual organizations, championing homosexual rights, and promoting homosexuality. All such transgressions would be punished with 7 years in prison.

Those who do not report wrongdoing the witness could face 3 years in custody.

A Downing Street source said: "The Prime Minister did raise it and you can take it that he was not supportive of the idea."

Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, backed Mr Brown's stance.

His spokesman said: "If adopted, a bill further criminalising homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights."

The row pits the western Commonwealth countries against some of the African nations who have often held different views on homosexuality. They often attack the west for trying to lecture them on issues of morality.

Peter Tatchell, the prominent gay rights campaigner, accused Commonwealth leaders of failing to condemn "homophobic discrimination and violence."

He said: "Some of the key principles of the Commonwealth are equality, non-discrimination, opportunity for all, liberty of the individual and human dignity,' he said.

"Of the 53 Commonwealth member states, over 40 still criminalise same-sex relations, mostly under anti-gay laws that were originally imposed by the British government in the nineteenth century, during the period of colonial rule.

"They criminalise otherwise law-abiding citizens and contribute to a hostile social atmosphere which demonises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as unnatural, abnormal and criminal."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the bill. The United States and France have also attacked the proposed law, with France expressing "deep concern."

Source: The Telegraph, Nov. 27, 2009

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission:

A broad coalition of civil society groups in Uganda have united against the legislation, warning that it will severely undermine human rights and the work of human rights defenders in the country. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans are already persecuted under Penal Code Article 145a, which prohibits "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature." The proposed bill specifically criminalizes homosexuality, and punishes anything from sexual stimulation to "touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality" with life imprisonment. Worse, "aggravated homosexuality" – including activity by "serial offenders" or those who are HIV positive – would merit the death penalty. More here.

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