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…

UAE: Briton Sentenced to Death for Selling Pot

June 25, 2012: The Foreign Office confirmed a young British man was sentenced to death in the United Arab Emirates for selling marijuana to an undercover officer.

The 21-year-old man's name was not released, The Independent reported.

He was tried and convicted in Abu Dhabi with a 19-year-old Syrian who received the same sentence.

News media in the UAE reported that the mother of the Syrian comforted the British man's mother after the sentence was handed down. The pair allegedly sold $400 worth of marijuana to a police officer posing as a buyer.

Pauline Crowe of Prisoners Abroad, a charity based in London, suggested an appeal has a good chance of success.

"If the sentence has just been passed, the dust will settle. Then if there is an appeal process; it is likely that the Government will support that," she told the Independent.

Crowe said the case is a reminder that travelers need to be aware of local laws, which can be far harsher outside of Europe.

At the moment, a British national is under a death sentence in Indonesia after being convicted of trying to smuggle cocaine into Bali.

Source: UPI, June 26, 2012

Abu Dhabi death sentence pair were 'big-time dealers'

The 2 men sentenced to death for selling Dh1,500 worth of marijuana to an undercover policeman were experienced dealers involved in smuggling larger quantities of drugs including opium and heroin, according to the head of Abu Dhabi Criminal Court.

The sentencing of Briton NL, 21, and MB, 19, from Syria, earlier this week caused controversy for the relatively small amount of drugs involved.

But Chief Justice Sayed Abdul Baseer said yesterday that the pair's involvement in drug dealing had been observed by police long before the sting operation in which they were caught selling 20 grams of hashish.

He said the pair had previously dealt in harder drugs, including opium and heroin, and were involved in a highly organised and professional operation.

"They would study the market and plan their steps ahead," said the chief justice.

The chief justice added that the pair knew what they were doing each day in advance. "They even discussed what penalty they could face if they were caught," he said.

Experts who examined the mobile phone and BlackBerry messenger records of the two men uncovered numerous discussions between the two about various drug deals in which they debated how to import the drugs and how to sell them once they were in the country.

In one conversation the Briton - who had previous convictions for possessing and taking drugs - described the state of the UAE drug market, explaining that 1kg of hashish could fetch Dh9,000.

He also mentioned that he believed the punishment for dealing was a life sentence, while the maximum jail term for consumption was 4 years.

A separate conversation between the Briton and a Spanish person, identified as R, showed that the Briton had shipped at least 1 consignment of drugs into the country, while a 3rd phone call involved an Emirati man requesting an undisclosed amount of opium.

In yet another conversation the Syrian asked the Briton to provide him with Dh1,000 worth of hashish. The Briton then asked for a chance to cut the requested amount and weight it - proof, said the chief justice, that the pair were involved in dealing, and not just consuming drugs.

Items recovered from their homes were also consistent with dealing, he said.

"Police found [in the Briton's house] special cutters to cut hashish and sell it later on," said the chief justice.

Officers also found paper rolls used to pack hashish and other instruments used to consume the drug.

The chief justice took the opportunity to explain why 2 others involved in the case were given more lenient sentences.

He said that the 3rd defendant GA, a 17-year-old Emirati who was ordered to enter rehabilitation, was guilty only of consuming the banned drug Tramadol. In such a case, where a juvenile was involved, the law prescribed a period of rehabilitation.

The 4th defendant FM, from Sudan, was also convicted of consuming only Tramadol. However, as he was not a minor he received a jail term of 1 year. As he is not Emirati he will also be deported.

The chief justice pointed out that all the defendants had confessed to the charges, noting that the Emirati acquired the Tramadol from the Briton for free, and that the Syrian admitted selling large amounts of hashish through another unnamed Emirati.

He also explained that in cases of drug dealing, the law was not concerned with the amount involved or how much it was worth.

"The criminal factor is fulfilled through the agreement to sell and buy, not necessarily after money has been paid and the delivery has occurred."

Despite the chief justice's comments, the verdict of the criminal court represents only the first stage in a long process.

Under law, any death sentence must be presented in 4 different courts and to 19 judges before it can be passed to the president or ruler of the emirate for approval.

A legal source said that in the emirate of Abu Dhabi there were no previous instances of a death sentence for drug dealing passing through all these stages, as the sentence tends to be reduced either by the appeals court or the court of cassation.

All death sentences must automatically be appealed by the public prosecution.

If the appeal court upholds the verdict the court of cassation then studies the case to see if it fulfils the Sharia requirements.

If the court is unconvinced it returns the case to the appeals court for a 2nd hearing. A different panel of judges will then study the case and if they uphold the death sentence the case will return to the court of cassation for a final verdict.

Those accused have a chance to defend themselves at each stage of the process.

Source: The National, June 27, 2012

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