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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…

Five myths about drug mules and the death penalty

A minority of mules are coerced into trafficking (so had little “choice”). Even willing mules cannot fully know what they are getting themselves into. Drug traffickers routinely misinform mules about what they are carrying and give them far larger quantities of drugs to carry than agreed. Because drugs arrive pre-packaged, they cannot check what they are carrying. This is important as type and weight of drug play a key role in punishments for trafficking.

Few mules know what punishments they face. Travel plans often change at the last minute. It is also very difficult to get accurate information. Go on, try and find out the sentence for carrying 500g of cocaine into the UK. Now imagine you don’t speak English …

Traffickers make sure mules have as little information as possible and evidence of threats is never left, making it difficult to go to the police. Reporting victimisation is difficult enough, never mind in a foreign country with no knowledge of laws or criminal justice. Since many mules are kept under close supervision, there is little opportunity to do so. Few drug mules, even those willingly involved, would have dared to return home without the drugs.


Source: The Conversation, Sept. 2, 2013. Jennifer Fleetwood is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Leicester, UK.

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