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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…

With vote to override Governor's veto, Nebraska abolishes death penalty

Omaha State Senator Ernie Chambers sponsored LB 268
Omaha State Senator Ernie Chambers (standing) sponsored LB 268
With a vote to override a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, The Nebraska Legislature repealed the death penalty in the state.

With 30 votes needed to override, the motion received 30 votes. 19 senators voted with the Governor.

2 senators changed their vote since final passage of LB 268. Wahoo State Senator and Jerry Johnson and Gretna State Senator John Murante initially supported the repeal, but on the floor Wednesday said they had changed their minds.

"I am personally conflicted on the death penalty,' said Murante, who noted he was a practicing Catholic. "One truth is undeniable. Taking human life under certain circumstances can be justified."

Murante said despite appeals by Archbishop George Lucas and priests, the majority of Murante's constituents overwhelmingly support the death penalty.

Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill Tuesday, arguing it was a necessary deterrent.

Omaha State Senator Ernie Chambers sponsored LB 268. Wednesday's vote was the culmination of a 40-year effort by Chambers to end capital punishment in Nebraska.

As debate began, he urged Senators to stand by their decision.

"Don't sacrifice what you are, and what you've stood for in response to temporary political pressure of the kind that might discard you later," said Chambers.

After the vote, applause broke out in the legislative chamber. Senator Chambers thanked colleagues for their vote.

During Wednesday's debate, Omaha Senator Bob Krist said, "Taking a life is not the right way for the state to maintain the safety of its citizens."

"This program is broken," said Lincoln Senator Colby Coash. "Executions are done. LB 268 is the way to put it in our past... Now is the time to do it."

Nebraska had not executed a prisoner since 1997, when the electric chair was used. It hasn't imposed the punishment under the lethal injection process now required by state law.

Source: KETV news, May 27, 2015


Nebraska Bans Death Penalty, Defying a Veto

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska on Wednesday became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty, with lawmakers defying their Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, a staunch supporter of capital punishment who had lobbied vigorously against banning it.

After more than two hours of emotional speeches at the Capitol here, the Legislature, by a 30-to-19 vote that cut across party lines, overrode the governor’s veto of a bill repealing the state’s death penalty law. After the repeal measure passed, by just enough votes to overcome the veto, dozens of spectators in the balcony burst into celebration.

The vote capped a monthslong battle that pitted most lawmakers in the unicameral Legislature against the governor, many law enforcement officials and some family members of murder victims whose killers are on death row. The Legislature approved the repeal bill three times this year, each time by a veto-proof majority, before sending it to Mr. Ricketts’s desk. Adding to the drama, two senators who had previously voted for repeal switched to support the governor at the last minute.

Opponents of the death penalty here were able to build a coalition that spanned the ideological spectrum by winning the support of Republican legislators who said they believed capital punishment was inefficient, expensive and out of place with their party’s values, as well as that of lawmakers who cited religious or moral reasons for supporting the repeal. Nebraska joins 18 other states and Washington, D.C., in banning the death penalty.

Though it is not clear that other Republican-dominated states will follow Nebraska’s example, Wednesday’s vote came at a time when liberals and conservatives have been finding common ground on a range of criminal justice issues in Washington and around the country.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The New York Times, Julie Bosman, May 27, 2015

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