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…

Death Penalty 2015: The Good and the Bad

The first 6 months of 2015 have seen starkly contrasting developments on the death penalty. While the bad news has been very bad, the good news has been very good.


1. Indonesia resumed executions.

The year began on a tragic note when Indonesia, ignoring pleas from around the world, put 6 people to death for drug trafficking. The executions were the 1st in Indonesia since 2013.

2. Pakistan may soon be counted among the world's top executioners.

Pakistan is edging closer to membership of the unenviable club of the world's top executioners (China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and USA). At least 150 people have been put to death since a freeze on executions was lifted in December 2014, following a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar.

3. Indonesia and Pakistan used crime and terrorism as an excuse to bring back executions.

Both Indonesia and Pakistan justified bringing back the death penalty by claiming it is an effective response to crime and terrorism. But there is no evidence to show that the death penalty is more effective at addressing crime than a prison term, nor does abolition lead to a sharp increase in crime, as some fear.

4. Iran looks set to surpass its execution figures for 2014.

Iran has so far this year executed nearly 700 people - many of these executions were not officially acknowledged. In 2014, Amnesty recorded at least 743 executions in Iran over 12 months. That the country put more than 600 people to death just 6 months into this year is deeply troubling.

5. Saudi Arabia has already executed more people than it did in 2014.

Amnesty has recorded 102 executions in Saudi Arabia so far this year, exceeding the total number of executions (at least 90) for 2014. Almost 1/2 of these executions were for drug-related offences.


1. Three countries abolished the death penalty in the first 3 months of 2015.

In January Madagascar abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Fiji followed suit in February. And in March, the South American State of Suriname also removed the death penalty from its legal books. The abolition of the death penalty in 3 countries in the space of 3 months gives further momentum to a trend that has been evident for decades - the world is consigning capital punishment to history.

2. Another three countries are close to abolishing the death penalty.

The Mongolian Parliament is considering a draft penal code abolishing the death penalty. Burkina Faso and South Korea are also considering similar draft laws.

3. The trend towards abolition in the USA is picking up steam.

One more US state, Nebraska, has abolished the death penalty, becoming the 19th abolitionist state in the USA. And in February, Pennsylvania's governor announced a suspension of all executions.

4. Those countries that execute are in the minority.

Over the last 5 years, the average number of countries that have carried out executions each year stands at 22.

5. More than 1/2 the world's countries have abolished the death penalty.

In total, 101 countries have completely abolished the death penalty - that's more than 1/2 the countries in the world. Another 33 countries are abolitionist in practice - meaning they have not executed anyone for at least 10 years and have a long-standing policy of not executing. Despite the sharp rise in executions in some countries, abolitionist countries still represent the clear global majority.

Source: Amnesty International, July 27, 2015

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