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: Man sent to death row in officer's killing is freed

Alfred Brown was released from the Harris County Jail, Texas,
Texas on June 8, 2015 (Photo: Houston Chronicle)
Alfred Dewayne Brown had spent more than a dozen years behind bars, many of them sitting on death row, so he had learned to bide his time.

The latest two were spent in jail in Harris County, after the District Attorney's Office agreed that he deserved a new trial in the death of a Houston police officer because evidence that could have helped his defense was withheld. He was still waiting eight months ago, when the highest court in Texas threw out that capital murder conviction.

On Monday, the day he was awaiting, but didn't think was certain, arrived. The day he was declared a free man.

District Attorney Devon Anderson said she was dismissing the case, that she didn't have enough evidence for a new trial, despite protestations from police officials that they had the right man.

"We re-interviewed all the witnesses. We looked at all the evidence and we're coming up short," Anderson told reporters. "We cannot prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore the law demands that I dismiss this case and release Mr. Brown."

Brown was sent to death row in 2005 for the robbery of a check-cashing business on the southeast side that ended with the fatal shooting of veteran officer Charles R. Clark and store clerk Alfredia Jones on the morning of April 5, 2003.

The Court of Criminal Appeals in November threw out the conviction and death sentence after ruling that his defense team was not given evidence that could have supported his alibi at trial.

That evidence was a copy of a telephone record, found by an investigator who was part of the case.

Brown said he had spent the day alone at his girlfriend's house. Brown's attorney told jurors that he called his girlfriend from her house after seeing television reports of the shooting, but jurors did not see any business record of the call from the land line.

When the phone document was discovered in 2013, the district attorney's office said it had been inadvertently misplaced and sent it to defense lawyers for Brown.

The DA's office later agreed that it was should have been handed over before trial and agreed that Brown deserved a new trial.

In planning for the retrial, Anderson said Monday, prosecutors decided there was no longer enough evidence to secure a conviction.

Because the case reverts back to an open investigation, Anderson would not answer other questions about the evidence or whether she believes Brown committed the crime.

Anderson did say there is "insufficient evidence to corroborate the testimony of Brown's co-defendant."

"When new evidence is discovered, this office will review it and proceed accordingly," she said. "There is no statute of limitations for capital murder."

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland and Joseph Gamaldi, vice president of the Houston Police Officers Union, stood with Anderson as she announced to reporters that charges were dismissed, effectively clearing Brown. They both said they still believe he committed the crime.

Katherine Scardino, Brown's attorney, said she does not know whether her client would have a compensable claim under the state's wrongful conviction laws.

She also said she was not surprised that police continue to suspect Brown, a soft-spoken man she called a "sensitive and gentle soul."

"I guess they are cops and they don't want to say they got the wrong person," she said. "It's been my experience that when police officers think they got their man, they don't like changing their minds."

Source: Houston Chronicle, Brian Rogers, June 9, 2015

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