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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…

Lawyers file last minute appeals to stop 7 p.m. execution of Brandon Rhode

JACKSON, Ga. — As Georgia authorities prepared today to put to death an inmate whose execution was postponed after he attempted suicide last week, the prisoner’s attorney contended his client is “no longer competent” and shouldn’t be executed.

Brandon Joseph Rhode is set to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. amid heightened security after he slashed his arms and throat on Sept. 21 with a disposable razor blade he hid from guards. After the attempted suicide, Rhode’s execution was first rescheduled for Friday and then pushed back until today.

Rhode was convicted in 2000 of killing Steven Moss, 37, his 11-year-old son Bryan and 15-year-old daughter Kristin during the burglary of their Jones County home. His coconspirator, Daniel Lucas, was also sentenced to death in a separate trial and remains on death row.

Rhode’s attorney, Brian Kammer, urged the Georgia Supreme Court and the state pardons board to push back the execution again so experts can evaluate whether the 31-year-old has the mental competence to be executed, or understands why he is being punished. He said Rhode lost half his blood Tuesday when he cut himself and could have suffered brain damage.

“He has been subjected to the surreal and incomprehensible: Heroic measures taken to stabilize his life by the prison staff that would then execute him,” he said in one filing. “While they may have been successful in keeping some measure of his physical being intact, it is not clear that they were able to do the same for his mental state.”

The Georgia Supreme Court denied Rhode’s emergency request for a stay this afternoon, as did the state pardons board. His attorneys planned to also appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rhode was stabilized at a local hospital after his suicide attempt and placed in a restraining chair to prevent him from pulling out the sutures on his neck or doing any other harm to himself, state attorneys said. Kammer countered that Rhode, who is mentally ill, was put in a “torture chair” and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

Source: jacksonville.com, September 27, 2010


Georgia preparing to execute suicidal inmate

Brandon Rhode's self-inflicted
neck wound
JACKSON — As Georgia authorities prepared Monday to put to death an inmate whose execution was postponed after he attempted suicide last week, the prisoner's attorney contended his client is "no longer competent" and shouldn't be executed.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down the request for a stay of execution around 8 p.m.

Rhode's attorney, Brian Kammer, urged the Georgia Supreme Court and the state pardons board to push back the execution again so experts can evaluate whether the 31-year-old has the mental competence to be executed, or understands why he is being punished. He said Rhode lost half his blood Tuesday when he cut himself and could have suffered brain damage.

"He has been subjected to the surreal and incomprehensible: Heroic measures taken to stabilize his life by the prison staff that would then execute him," he said in one filing. "While they may have been successful in keeping some measure of his physical being intact, it is not clear that they were able to do the same for his mental state."

The Georgia Supreme Court denied Rhode's emergency request for a stay Monday afternoon, as did the state pardons board. His attorneys applied Monday afternoon to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution. The court turned down the request.

Rhode was stabilized at a local hospital after his suicide attempt and placed in a restraining chair to prevent him from pulling out the sutures on his neck or doing any other harm to himself, state attorneys said. Kammer countered that Rhode, who is mentally ill, was put in a "torture chair" and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmate's legs are shackled and his hands are handcuffed and tied in a bag that is closed with a zip tie to prevent him from tearing out his sutures, Kammer said. The lights of Rhode's prison cell are kept on at all times and he's watched day and night by two prison guards posted on either end of his bunk, he said.

"This week of torturous treatment, both in prison and the court, along with a life without parole sentence, would serve as sufficient punishment," he said in a plea to commute his sentence.

Source: AP, September 7, 2010

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