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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 plans to execute an inmate who has been on death row for 30 years

Lester Bower
Lester Bower
On Wednesday, the state of Texas plans to do something it has been trying to do for decades: Execute Lester Bower.

Bower, 67, has spent nearly half of his life on death row. He was convicted of shooting and killing a man while attempting to steal an ultralight plane that the man was trying to sell in 1983, and then fatally shooting three other men when they unexpectedly showed up at the aircraft hangar, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

His attorneys argue that Bower was convicted due to circumstantial evidence, and that since his trial, new evidence has emerged undermining the prosecution that sent Bower to death row.

“This is a case in which there is a significant lingering doubt regarding guilt or innocence,” his attorneys argued in a filing last week.

They have also pointed to other arguments that they hope will keep Bower from the execution chamber, including an issue involving his sentencing. Bower’s execution had been scheduled for Feb. 10, but the week before, the Supreme Court granted his request for a stay while it considered whether to hear his case. In March, the justices decided against hearing the appeal and lifted the stay.

After the court said it would not hear the case, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissent that the court should hear it because of the sentencing issue. When Bower was convicted, the jury helping decide his sentence did not consider potentially mitigating evidence, something the Supreme Court later said was unconstitutional. As a result, Beyer says this should allow for a new sentencing hearing for Bower.

“I recognize that we do not often intervene only to correct a case-specific legal error,” Breyer wrote in the dissent, which was joined by two other justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. “But the error here is glaring, and its consequence may well be death.”

Bower’s attorneys have also argued that his long stint on death row should help him avoid lethal injection. The average death row inmate in Texas spends a decade there, while death row inmates nationwide have spent an average of 14 years under their sentences.


Source: Washington Post, Mark Berman, June 2, 2015

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