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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…

Mississippi Supreme Court rules for death row inmate Jeffrey Havard

This week, the Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously ruled that death row inmate Jeffrey Havard can proceed with an evidentiary hearing to challenge his murder conviction. Havard was convicted in 2002 of killing his girlfriend's 6-month-old daughter. Havard claims the girl slipped from his arms as he was giving her a bath and hit her head.

Controversial medical examiner Steven Hayne concluded that the girl had died of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), a diagnosis that is also highly controversial. Hayne also claimed to have found evidence of sexual abuse, a finding that allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

As I've written here before, Hayne has since come under fire for his improbable testimony, sloppy practices and herculean workload. He was effectively fired as the state's quasi-official medical examiner in 2008, although he still periodically testifies in civil cases, in old cases in which the defendant was given a new trial, and for defense attorneys. Hayne has since reversed part of his testimony in the Havard case, although as noted here at The Watch, he has still given highly suspect testimony in other SBS cases.

The ruling this week doesn't grant Havard a new trial, but it does give him permission to ask for an evidentiary hearing on the scientific legitimacy of the Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosis. A favorable ruling in that hearing could then result in a new trial. Since Havard's conviction, SBS has come under fire as new research has called its underlying premises into doubt. This ruling basically acknowledges as much. But the court rejected Havard's claims related to Hayne's credibility as an expert witness.

While the court's ruling on SBS is correct - and encouraging, given how difficult it can be to get appeals courts to revisit convictions based on science later shown to be flawed - focusing solely on the SBS ruling shows that the Mississippi Supreme Court still isn't ready to acknowledge and account for the full extent of Hayne's corruption of the state's criminal justice system.

Source: The Washington Post, Radley Balko, April 4, 2015

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