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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

U.S.: Justices Rule on Staying Death Row Challenges

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously ruled that federal courts should not automatically suspend postconviction challenges from death row inmates who are mentally incompetent to help their lawyers. The decision left open the possibility that such suspensions may sometimes be warranted, but it said that they should not be indefinite.

“Where there is no reasonable hope of competence,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court, “a stay is inappropriate.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to put mentally incompetent defendants on trial because they cannot understand the proceedings against them or assist their lawyers. The court has also barred “carrying out a sentence of death upon a prisoner who is insane.”


Source: The New York Times, January 9, 2013

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