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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

US executions face more uncertainty as expert refuses to defend drug protocols

The decision of America’s leading expert on lethal injection drugs to stop offering court testimony has left at least one state without a single witness to defend its execution procedures from legal challenges.

The New Republic reported this week that Dr Mark Dershwitz, citing potential impacts to his profession as a board-certified anesthesiologist, would no longer act as an expert witness on behalf of lethal injection protocols. Dershwitz, also a doctor of pharmacology and professor at the University of Massachusetts medical school, has testified as an expert witness in more than 20 states and for the federal government. In June, he withdrew himself as a witness in a case challenging the execution of Montana’s two death-row inmates – convicted murderers Ronald Smith and William Jay Gollehon.

Smith, a Canadian, was sentenced to die for the 1982 murders of two men who picked him up while hitchhiking, and Gollehon for the 1992 murder of an inmate while incarcerated on two other counts of homicide.

The doctor was Montana’s only witness in a case brought against the state by the Montana American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Smith and Gollehon challenging the state’s execution procedures.

“At this point in time, we do not have another expert witness to replace him,” said Anastasia Burton, deputy communications director for the Montana attorney general. The case is now scheduled to move forward next summer. Previously, it was meant to be heard in September.


Source: The Guardian, Jessica Glenza, August 22, 2014

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