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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…

Texas calls off Robert Pruett execution with just hours to spare

Robert Pruett
The planned execution of Robert Pruett has been stayed to allow for more testing of evidence, about 3 hours before the Texas prisoner was scheduled to be given a lethal injection for the murder of a guard in 1999.

Pruett, 35, was convicted in 2002 of killing of Daniel Nagle, a 37-year-old corrections officer who was stabbed to death in his office at a prison near Corpus Christi.

The prosecution argued that Pruett murdered Nagle in retaliation for being punished for eating a packed lunch in an unauthorised area. The disciplinary report was found torn up by the guard's body.

Blood on the report was tested for DNA, which was found to have come from Nagle. More DNA testing was conducted in 2013, and the results were inconclusive.

Pruett's attorneys argued that the evidence had been damaged by being improperly stored but future, more advanced DNA testing techniques might reveal more details that would allow him to prove his innocence and potentially identify the true perpetrator.

On Tuesday afternoon a judge agreed to halt the execution, scheduled for 6pm local time, to allow for more DNA testing of evidence.

David Dow, Pruett's attorney, said that Bert Richardson, who is now on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals but has previously issued rulings on the case as a district judge, withdrew the trial date to allow for more testing of evidence including the murder weapon - a sharpened metal shank with a piece of tape used as a handle - using currently available technology.

Pruett claimed that he had been framed by people worried that Nagle was about to expose corruption in the facility. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime and the prosecution's case was based mainly on testimony from other inmates, some of whom were given favourable treatment as a result.

Pruett has come close to death several times before only for stays to be granted. At the time of the killing he was serving a 99-year sentence for being an accomplice, aged 15, in a murder carried out by his father.

An appeal was rejected by the federal 5th circuit court last Friday, but Pruett had several appeals pending, including at the US supreme court.

Source: The Guardian, April 29, 2015

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