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…

Iraq: 14 executed in one day

February 7, 2012: Iraq executed 14 people, most of them Al-Qaeda members, a senior justice ministry official said, bringing to at least 65 the number of executions so far this year.

"Fourteen Iraqis were executed yesterday (Tuesday)," the official said, asking not to be named. "They were convicted of terrorism and other crimes committed in 2006 and 2007." "Most of them are from Al-Qaeda, among them the wali (leader) of Mosul," the official said.

Justice Ministry spokesman Haider al-Saadi was quoted by the Iraqi Alsumaria News website as saying a leading militant in the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq was among those executed. He added that the executions were compliant with Iraq's anti-terrorism and penal codes.

The hangings bring the number of people executed in the first six weeks of this year close to the total of 68 for all of 2011.

Iraq executed 17 people on 31 January, Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammari was quoted in a statement at the time as saying.

Before those executions, ministry spokesman Haidar al-Saadi said the authorities had so far hanged 34 people this year, including two women and a Syrian.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has expressed shock at the number of executions, criticising the lack of transparency in court proceedings and calling for an immediate suspension of the death penalty.

Sources: AFP, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Feb. 8, 2012

Iraq executes 14 despite UN rights chief protest

BAGHDAD: Iraq executed 14 convicted criminals on Tuesday, a Justice Ministry official said, bringing the number of executions this year to at least 65 despite objections from the United Nations’ human rights chief.

Those executed included an Al-Qaeda commander, the senior official said. They had been found guilty of crimes ranging from armed robbery and murder to terrorist offenses.

Executions were suspended after Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003 but reintroduced in 2004 by Iraqi authorities who said the death penalty was needed to combat a wave of sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents. Death sentences are usually carried out by hanging.

“The Justice Ministry executed 14 Iraqis - terrorists and criminals - in Baghdad on Tuesday,” a senior Justice Ministry official told Reuters on Wednesday.

They included Abu Talha who headed an Al-Qaeda affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq, in the northern city of Mosul and the provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Those executed carried out their crimes in 2006 and 2007, when violence peaked in the wake of the US-led invasion in 2003.

Tuesday’s executions were the second such batch since UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay criticized Iraq last month for the number of death sentences and questioned the fairness of its judicial proceedings.

Pillay urged Baghdad to impose a moratorium on executions. A week later, 17 Iraqis were executed.

The rights group Amnesty International has also expressed concern about the use of the death penalty in Iraq.

Sources: Arab News, Reuters, Feb. 8, 2012

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