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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…

Deciding on death penalty in bombing case

On a recent program, CNN’s Piers Morgan asked Arnold Schwarzenegger his opinion on whether accused Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty. Although admitting that he was not fully informed about the case, the former Governor of California responded, “If convicted, I think that yeah, he should get the death penalty. Yes."

While Schwarzenegger, like the rest of us, is welcome to have and express an opinion, certainly the decision on such an important, life-and-death matter should not be based on what the majority of the public thinks or wants.

But what about the bombing victims and their families? Should their majority be a major factor on whether the Federal Government should seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev? And should their wishes be communicated to the jury?

Consistent with Justice Department procedure, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is in fact consulting with the victims and their families' families before making a recommendation to Attorney General Holder. Reportedly, she has distributed a questionnaire to hundreds of victims that includes the matter of capital punishment.

Hopefully, this part of the decision-making process is more about political correctness than public policy. It is absolutely appropriate for the victims to be kept informed about significant developments in the case. However, the preferences of victims should not guide either prosecutorial strategy or sentencing decisions.


By James Alan Fox, Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy, Northeastern University. Source: Corrections.com, Sept. 3, 2013.

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