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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…

Missouri's attorney general urges the state supreme court to set 19 execution dates

(AP) — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is urging the state Supreme Court to move forward with the execution of several condemned killers or explain why it won't.

Koster filed a motion on Thursday seeking execution dates for nine men. The motion also questions why the court has not set execution dates for 10 others whose execution dates were previously requested.

"Silence is not an option in this matter any longer," Koster said in an interview on Friday. "The court needs to give us the word that we can move forward with these, or they need to articulate why not."

Beth Riggert, spokeswoman for the Missouri Supreme Court, declined to speculate on why execution dates have not been set for the 10 earlier inmates. As for the nine new ones, she said each has five business days to respond to Koster's call for execution dates.

"The court will rule when it deems it appropriate," she said.

Meanwhile, Missouri's next execution will apparently use a new process. Previously, the state used a three-drug protocol. But a shortage of one of those drugs, sodium thiopental, has prompted the state to go to a single-drug method.

Between 1989, when executions resumed in Missouri, and 2005, the state put to death 66 convicted killers. But in the seven years since then, only two men have been executed — Dennis Skillicorn in 2009 and Martin Link last year.

Other states have seen similar reductions. Nationwide, there were 98 executions in 1999, but just 43 in 2011, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. So far in 2012 there have been 18.

In Missouri, the attorney general typically requests an execution date after traditional court appeals are exhausted. In years past, the state Supreme Court would then establish a date, setting in motion last-minute court appeals as well as a clemency request before the governor.

But it has been six years since Koster's predecessor, now Gov. Jay Nixon, requested an execution date for Jeffrey Ferguson. Execution dates for five inmates have been pending since 2007.

Koster acknowledged that two issues may have made the Supreme Court reluctant to move forward.

Death penalty opponents have filed several claims that lethal injection violates a constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment, saying it potentially causes extreme pain that the drug-induced inmate cannot articulate. A 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the use of the drugs.

Then a shortage of one of the three drugs emerged. Some states halted executions because of the inability to obtain sodium thiopental, which renders the inmate unconscious. After that pancuronium bromide is administered to stop breathing and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Missouri has revised its protocol and will now use just one drug, propofol (marketed as Diprovan), which will be administered intravenously, Dave Dormire, director of the Missouri Department of Correction's Division of Adult Institutions, said in a statement on Friday. Corrections officials did not say when the new protocol was adopted.

Koster also noted that there has been a change in "political sentiment" toward the death penalty, with an increasing number of states reluctant to carry it out and prosecutors becoming more reluctant to seek it. Still, he said that as long as it is law in Missouri, there is an obligation to move forward with executions.

"The political world doesn't affect the carrying out of these sentences until legislatures act," Koster said. "I have an obligation to strictly follow the letter of the law. The Supreme Court does as well."

Kathleen Holmes, state coordinator of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said Missouri should stop executions and "focus resources instead on solving more cases of violent crime, taking violent offenders off the streets and providing meaningful support for victims and their families."

Source: AP, May 18, 2012

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