Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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 executes Derrick Charles

Derrick Charles
Derrick Charles
Derrick Dewayne Charles was put to death in Huntsville, Texas, on Tuesday evening.

Charles was pronounced dead at 6:36 pm local time, 25 minutes after being given the execution drug.

As the pentobarbital took effect, he took two breaths, yawned and then appeared to go to sleep.

Six relatives of Charles' victims witnessed the execution, but he made no eye contact with them.

His last words were: "I'm ready to go home."

The 32-year-old becomes the seventh prisoner executed this year in Texas, the nation’s most active capital punishment state, and the 14th in the U.S.

His attorneys argued that he was mentally incompetent for execution and that they needed time and court-approved money for experts and investigators to pursue that claim.

State attorneys said questions about his competency were rejected in earlier rounds of appeals and there was no evidence he was incompetent.

Charles in 2003 pleaded guilty to capital murder charges. He was on parole for a burglary conviction at the time of the triple slaying.

He was wanted by authorities for ignoring mandatory meetings with his parole officer when he was arrested for killing his 15-year-old girlfriend Myiesha Bennett, her mother Brenda Bennett and her grandfather Obie Bennett at their home in Houston 13 years ago.

Charles was arrested a day after the bodies of Myiesha Bennett, her 44-year-old mother, and 77-year-old grandfather were found at their north-east Houston home. People who knew them became alarmed after not hearing from them for several days.

Ten months later, in May 2003, Charles pleaded guilty to capital murder, leaving a jury to decide whether he should spend the rest of his life in prison or be sent to death row. Jurors decided he should be executed after hearing about his extensive juvenile record, his burglary conviction and the details of the killings.

Attorneys for Charles said he was mentally incompetent for execution and that the courts should authorize money for psychologists and investigators, so the defense could develop those arguments.

The supreme court has said condemned inmates must be aware they are about to be executed and have a rational understanding of why they are being put to death.

Charles was diagnosed as mentally ill when he was a child and was deprived of care and medication while growing up, one of his attorneys, Paul Mansur, told the justices in a filing.

Another appeal argued that the trial court violated Charles’s constitutional rights by refusing to appoint psychiatric experts and investigators.

State attorneys opposed any delay in the punishment. They said questions about whether Charles was mentally incompetent for execution were rejected by courts earlier and that his lawyers improperly filed their constitutional challenge.

Charles was arrested at a Houston motel where Brenda Bennett’s car was found. Police have said he told them he beat and strangled Obie Bennett. Myiesha Bennett was choked with an extension cord, beaten with a box containing stereo speakers and hit with a TV.

Brenda Bennett was thrown into a water-filled bathtub along with a plugged-in TV. When that failed to electrocute her, she was dragged through the house, raped and strangled.

Court documents indicate that Charles said he smoked marijuana soaked in embalming fluid before the killings, then hallucinated while committing them.

Charles was one of at least three Texas inmates scheduled for lethal injection over the next several weeks. The Texas department of criminal justice has said it has enough pentobarbital to carry out two of the executions, meaning the prison agency wouldd need to replenish its supply of the difficult-to-obtain sedative for capital punishment use or find a substitute drug to replace it.

Source: The Associated Press, May 12, 2015

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