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…

Texas prisons must disclose execution drug details: state attorney general's office

Texas prison officials must disclose information about who supplies lethal drugs for executions and how much of the drugs the Department of Criminal Justice has on hand, the state attorney general's office ruled.

The opinion this week came in response to public information requests filed earlier in the year by the Austin American-Statesman and the British newspaper The Guardian.

Prison officials had argued that releasing the information could be harmful to employees and provide death penalty opponents with an avenue to harass the drug suppliers in the hope those firms would refuse to do business with the state.

"We find your arguments as to how disclosure of the requested drug quantities would result in the disruption of the execution process or otherwise interfere with law enforcement to be too speculative," Sean Opperman, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the opinion.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials did not immediately respond to a phone message left by The Associated Press seeking comment. The Austin paper, which first reported about the ruling Thursday, said prison officials said they hadn't seen the opinion yet and couldn't comment on it.

The prison agency has 30 days to comply with the opinion or to challenge it in court, under state guidelines.

Opperman said that while the attorney general's office "acknowledge(s) the department's concerns," the corrections department didn't show how disclosure of the information "would create a substantial threat of physical harm to any individual."

Department officials have indicated they have a sufficient supply to handle upcoming executions. At least 5 so far are scheduled for Texas into the summer, including 1 early next month.

Last year Texas had to change from sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the process, when it became unavailable after its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. No other vendor could be found and pentobarbital was used as a replacement.

The physical effects of the new drug on condemned inmates have not been noticeable at executions in Huntsville but the financial cost to the state has risen considerably. Prison officials put the cost of the previous drug mixture, which also used pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, at $83.35. It's now $1286.86, with the higher cost primarily due to pentobarbital.

About 3.4 ounces of solution containing 5 grams of pentobarbital is used in the lethal injection process, followed by lethal doses of the other two drugs. In addition, the department's written procedures call for a matching set of drugs and syringes "in case unforeseen events make their use necessary."

Source: Associated Press, May 18, 2012

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