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

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…

Saudi beheads man as UN cries foul

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia on Sunday beheaded a man for murder. It was the second such execution this year, and comes as the United Nations condemned the continued use of the death penalty in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom.

According to a statement from the interior ministry, Jahaz al-Baqmi was executed in the southern city of Taif after being convicted of stabbing a man to death.

At least four people have been executed in the country already this year. In 2011, at least 78 persons were sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, the United Nations top human rights official voiced concern and condemnation over Riyadh’s apparent indiscriminate use of capital punishment this year.

“We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to respect international standards guaranteeing due process and the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, to progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and to reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed,” Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

“What is even more worrying is that court proceedings often reportedly fall far short of international fair trial standards, and the use of torture as a means to obtain confessions appears to be rampant,” Colville added.

Colville also lashed out at the country’s use of the death penalty for crimes including adultery and witchcraft and sorcery, which saw a woman executed last month after being convicted of being a witch.

The OHCHR also expressed grave concern at the recent sentencing of six men convicted on charges of highway robbery. The men were condemned to “cross amputation” – a form of punishment which involves the amputation of the men’s right hands and left feet.

“We call on the authorities to halt the use of such cruel, inhuman, degrading punishment,” Colville continued, noting that as a party to the Convention against Torture, Saudi Arabia is “bound by the absolute prohibition” against the use of torture and other forms of cruel punishment.

One political activist in the country told Bikyamasr.com on condition of anonymity that the use of the death penalty is applied “as both a deterrent and a way of getting the hardcore conservatives behind the government. It’s a give and take.”

With the country nearly tripling the number of executions in 2011 as compared to the previous year, and with one person being executed every other day already this year, worries are that the death penalty is being used widely and swiftly as the chief form of punishment.

Source: bikyamasr, January 8, 2012

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