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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…

Missouri death row prisoner Reggie Clemons appeals for freedom based on new evidence

The Missouri death row prisoner Reggie Clemons will make one final appeal on Monday at a special hearing that marks the last glimmer of hope that his life might be spared.

Clemons and his defence lawyer, alongside the opposing legal team of the state of Missouri, will come before judge Michael Manners in his court room in Independence, Missouri, to give their final oral arguments in what amounts to one last role of the dice for Clemons. The prisoner has been on death row for 20 years for the double murder of two sisters who were raped and thrown off the Chain of Rocks bridge over the Mississippi in April 1991.

Clemons, 41, has consistently claimed innocence. In the course of a three-hour interview with the Guardian, filmed in prison, he said: "I know, and God knows I'm not a rapist. I know I'm not a murderer or a killer. I know I didn't do any of these things. I know I'm innocent."

At Monday's final hearing, the onus will be on Clemons as the petitioner to persuade the judge that as a result of new evidence that has come to light since his 1993 trial his death sentence is no longer sound.

In final written arguments prepared for the judge, Clemons's lawyer, New York attorney Joshua Levine, has concentrated on three peculiarities of the case that he argues should lead to a retrial, or at least commutation to a life sentence. First, the defence has presented new evidence that an all-important "confession" that Clemons made to police shortly after the Kerry sisters fell to their deaths in April 1991 was beaten out of him.

Yet Clemons retracted the statement the day after he made it, complaining it had been forced from him through police brutality. Since the previous hearing in front of Manners last September, new testimony has been deposed that has never been heard before from a bail investigator called Warren Weeks who interviewed Clemons just a few hours after his police questioning.

Weeks swore under oath that he had seen a "golf-ball-sized welt" and "a rather large bump on the side of his face" that he had interpreted to be a result of the interrogation.


Source: The Guardian, March 18, 2013

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