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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…

Kuwaiti wife gets death sentence for wedding blaze

KUWAIT CITY — A court on Tuesday sentenced a Kuwaiti woman to death for starting a fire that killed 57 women and children at the wedding party of her husband who married another wife.

Judge Adel al-Sager read out the verdict against Nasra Yussef Mohammed al-Enezi, 23, at the court of first instance.

Death sentences in Kuwait are carried out by hanging, but it would first have to be upheld by the appeals court.

The woman who was not present in the court was found guilty of "premeditated murder and starting a fire with the intent to kill."

Press reports at the time of the blaze said Enezi had wanted to avenge her husband's "bad treatment" of her, but in court she denied any involvement in the incident.

Defence lawyer Zaid al-Khabbaz vowed he would prove Enezi's innocence in the higher courts and said the verdict had been influenced by public opinion.

"The ruling was very harsh against a woman who is innocent," Khabbaz told AFP. "It is a political judgement rather than a criminal ruling because the court came under the influence of public opinion."

He said the public prosecution failed to "unequivocally prove that Enezi was the perpetrator. The case contained many legal loopholes."

Khabbaz said the defence team was considering contacting international human rights organisations in a bid to save Enezi's life.

He also said the defence team would have a better opportunity to prove her innocence in the appeals and supreme courts.

The August 15 inferno engulfed the women-and-children-only tent in minutes and triggered a stampede. The final death toll was 57, including several Saudis and stateless Arabs.

At her first hearing in October, the suspect denied the charges.

At another hearing, an Asian domestic helper testified in court that she saw Enezi pour petrol and start the fire at the wedding tent in Jahra, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Kuwait City.

Her defence lawyers had alleged at the time of Enezi's arrest on August 16, she was two months pregnant but that the embryo was "deliberately aborted" by a prison guard with the help of an Asian nurse.

The incident shocked the small Gulf Arab state and Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah ordered that relatives of each victim be paid 35,000 dollars in compensation.

Enezi was initially believed to be the groom's ex-wife but defence lawyers said she was still his wife, as men are allowed to have more than one wife in this Muslim state.

Enezi and the man have two children, both of whom are mentally handicapped.

If Enezi's sentence is upheld by higher courts, she would be the first Kuwaiti woman to be executed in the history of the Gulf state.

Another Kuwaiti woman was sentenced to death over three years ago after being convicted of drug trafficking, but her sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison.

Women from other nationalities have, however, been hanged in the past.

Kuwait has executed a total of 72 people, three of them women, since it introduced the death penalty some four decades ago. Most of the condemned have been convicted murderers or drug traffickers.

Source: AFP, March 30, 2010

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