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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…

India: Supreme Court slaps death sentence on woman

In a new twist to sentencing policy, the Supreme Court on Friday held that no leniency can be shown by courts in awarding death sentence only on the ground that the accused in a brutal killing is a woman.

The sentencing policy must be proportionate to the crime committed and the sentence must be the same for man and woman, held a 3-judge bench of Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and Justices S.A. Bobde and Arun Mishra, while confirming a death sentence awarded to a woman and her paramour for killing 7 members of a family (the case was briefly reported on April 30 when the bench reserved orders).

Writing the judgement, the CJI said, "The Indian legal system today does not differentiate between a son and a daughter - they have equal rights and duties. Indian culture has been witness to for centuries, that daughters dutifully bear the burden of being the care-givers for her parents, even more than a son. Our experience has reflected that an adult daughter places greater emphasis on their relationships with their parents, and when those relationships go awry, it takes a worse toll on the adult daughters than the adult sons." The bench said, "The principle that when the offence is gruesome and was committed in a calculated and diabolical manner, the age of the accused may not be a relevant factor. Death penalty is not proportional if the law's most severe penalty is imposed on one whose culpability or blameworthiness is diminished, to a substantial degree, by reason of youth and immaturity. This, however, does not seem to be the case herein. The appellant-accused persons' preparedness, active involvement. It said "Here is a case where the daughter, appellant-accused Shabnam, who has been brought up in an educated and independent environment by her family and was respectfully employed as a Shikshamitra (teacher) at the school, influenced by the love and lust of her paramour has committed this brutal parricide exterminating seven lives including that of an innocent child." It said "Of all the crimes that shock the souls of men, none has ever been held in greater abhorrence than parricide, which is by all odds the most complete and terrible inversion, not alone of human nature but of brute instinct. Such a deed would be sufficiently appalling were the perpetrator and the victims are uneducated and backward, but it gains a ghastly illumination from the descent, moral upbringing, and elegant respectful living of the educated family where the father and daughter are both teachers.

Dismissing the appeals against a Allahabad High Court verdict confirming a trial court's order, the bench said "the crime is committed in the most cruel and inhuman manner which is extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical and revolting. Therefore, as the instant case requires us to award a punishment that is graduated and proportioned to the crime, we have reached the inescapable conclusion that the extreme culpability of both the appellants-accused makes them the most deserving for death penalty."

Source: The Asian Age, May 17, 2015

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