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…

Aurora Gunman Legally Insane, Psychiatrist Says

James E. Holmes
James E. Holmes
A star witness for the defense in James E. Holmes's murder trial testified this week that Mr. Holmes was schizophrenic and legally insane in July 2012, when he opened fire in a crowded movie theater in the neighboring suburb of Aurora, killing 12 people and injuring 70.

The witness, Dr. Raquel Gur, was 1 of 4 psychiatrists who examined Mr. Holmes after the shootings, and her observations bolstered the defense's position that while Mr. Holmes was indeed the gunman, he met the legal standard for insanity at the time.

Dr. Gur, who began her testimony on Monday, explained that she had questioned Mr. Holmes for 28 hours over 6 days, starting in late 2012. "The severity and intensity of his psychosis," she said on Tuesday, "was so high, so severe, as to render him incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong."

It was crucial testimony in a trial that started on April 27 in the Arapahoe County courthouse in Centennial, Colo., a Denver suburb, and that could go to the jury next week. If jurors find Mr. Holmes insane, the state will send him to a psychiatric hospital. If they deem him sane, the trial will proceed to a sentencing phase, and he could face the death penalty.

So far, 2 court-appointed psychiatrists have said that Mr. Holmes was severely mentally ill during the shooting, but legally sane. A third, Dr. Jonathan Woodcock, was enlisted by Mr. Holmes's defense team and testified in late June that Mr. Holmes was insane. Prosecutors questioned that testimony vigorously, pointing out that Dr. Woodcock had made his determination before interviewing people like Mr. Holmes's parents or discussing the planning of the attack with Mr. Holmes.

Dr. Gur, a professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, described Mr. Holmes as an exceptionally intelligent man whose self-esteem had plummeted as he obsessed over what he saw as his imperfections. He began to believe he could replenish his own worth only by killing others, Dr. Gur said.

She recalled asking him why he had not killed himself instead. "He said he couldn't," she said. "I told him, 'But you could kill others.' And he was a little bit shaken."

"I followed, 'How did you think other people will feel?'" Dr. Gur added. "He was like shocked that other people will have a reaction at all - that they would not want to die." But on Wednesday, the prosecution, led by George Brauchler, the Arapahoe County district attorney, questioned whether Dr. Gur's written reports accurately reflected Mr. Holmes's mental state in the days before and after the shooting.

"You'd agree with me that nowhere in this report of June of 2013 do you include any of the details of his activities in terms of working out on a regular basis, shopping for healthy food on a regular basis, continuing virtually uninterrupted in every other single activity that's documented in his life?" Mr. Brauchler asked.

Dr. Gur responded: "It's not in my report. Correct."

Dr. Gur did not record her interviews with Mr. Holmes, though she could have elected to do so.

"When you make that decision," Mr. Brauchler said, "you've made that decision not just for you, but you've made that decision for everybody who is going to review what you did in the case, correct?"

"Correct," Dr. Gur answered. "I thought that my verbal report, written notes obtained, and being under oath, I would portray accurately all the information that I've obtained during the interview."

Mr. Holmes had just quit a graduate neuroscience program when he opened fire in the movie theater, in one of the worst mass murders in the United States in recent years. The shooting left a trail of victims that included the 12 dead, their family members and others who were emotionally broken, physically injured or paralyzed by the event.

Source: New York Times, July 9, 2015

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