FEATURED POST

Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Image
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…

Remembering a Death Row Exoneree

"Dennis Williams, a former death-row inmate whose exoneration became a rallying cry for opponents of the death penalty in Illinois, died on Thursday at his home. He was 46. An autopsy has not yet been performed..." -- The New York Times: March 25, 2003

To outsiders a decade ago this month, Dennis Williams had it all. He was vibrant and gregarious, with a sharp wit and infectious laugh. Women were drawn to him, and his latest "fiancee," Alicia, was as bright as she was beautiful.

And, there was the stuff: a $500,000 spacious home in south suburban Flossmoor and a garage filled with toys, including a Ford Mustang Shelby, a Toyota Land Cruiser and a GMC Yukon. He was often spotted on his Honda Shadow motorcycle, occasionally stopping to chat with neighbors. Living nearby was his best friend since high school, Kenneth Adams, and his wife Norma, both frequent guests at the Williams residence.

It appeared on the surface that life was good for a man who had spent 18 years on death row.

The money had not softened Williams' resolve to campaign against the death penalty and reform the criminal justice system -- "more criminal than just," he quipped. His charisma made him a popular speaker at abolitionist rallies and before legislative bodies.

Away from audiences, however, Williams was suffering. His inner world was increasingly dominated by fears and suspicions. He was haunted by flashbacks to life in a 6' by 10' cell near the death chamber and the ghosts of friends lost to the executioner.

A visitor to Williams' home found it dimly lit, partly to conceal cameras he believed would record intruding cops or acts of infidelity. His travels were limited by a fear of flying caused by an obsession that prosecutors would blow up the plane.

As Williams spoke about his unraveling life, he restlessly paced, as if still caged. Chain-smoking menthols, ashtrays rapidly filling, he was never far from a bottle of malt liquor. Drinking calmed him, Williams said, and helped with fitful sleep, a constant issue since his brother died in a garage fire the previous year. Unable to concentrate, he ceased oil painting, a creative outlet that also settled him. Now his only pleasures were talking into the night with best friend Adams and "bolting out" on his Honda bike.


Source: David Protess, Huff Post, March 4, 2013. David Protess co-authored a book with Rob Warden about the "Ford Heights Four case, A Promise of Justice: The Eighteen-Year Fight to Save Four Innocent Men."

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Nevada law says chief medical officer must advise on executions despite ethical clash

Russian who joined ISIS in Iraq sentenced to hanging

20 Minutes to Death: Record of the Last Execution in France

Ohio executes Gary Otte

Iran: Prisoners Hanged in Public While Crowd Watched

Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Poorly executed - Indiana inmate challenges state's lethal cocktail change

Arkansas death-row inmate tries to drop appeal blocking execution; request denied

Nevada inmate asks how he should mentally prepare for execution

"I cannot execute convicted murderers," Tanzania's president declares