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…

Pakistan issues execution warrant for Shafqat Hussain

Pakistan today set an execution date of August 7th for Shafqat Hussain, who was convicted as a juvenile following days of police torture.

Shafqat was under 18 when he was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004 having been tortured into giving a false ‘confession’. The Pakistan government has refused to back a judicial inquiry into his age, instead withholding a number of documents, notably his school record, which reportedly provide proof that he was under 18.

Last week the Sindh Human Rights Commission, a statutory watchdog headed by a retired judge, called for a halt to Shafqat’s execution so that the allegations of torture and his juvenility might be examined.

In its opinion, the commission wrote that “there are no eye witnesses [to the alleged offence] but only [the] confession of the accused with [an] allegation of torture.” They went further in criticising the way the case was dealt with in the first instance, writing “we fail to understand why [there was] such a careless handling of a serious case where [the] life of a human being is at stake,” and asking whether Shafqat can “be executed when there is so much confusion and the evidence is lacking.” They also criticised the initial government inquiry, carried out by the government’s Federal Investigation Authority, concluding that it was ‘not admissible’.

This is the fifth execution warrant that has been issued for Shafqat Hussain since the Pakistan government resumed executions in December of last year following a moratorium on executions that had been in place since 2008. So far, around 180 people have been hanged in Pakistan. There was a brief hiatus in hangings over Ramadan but as that ended the government began issuing execution warrants again. Among those were warrants for paraplegic Abdul Basit who is due to be killed on Wednesday, and another for mentally ill prisoner Khizar Hayat, whose execution has now been temporarily stayed.

The Pakistan Government initially claimed it resumed executions to counter terrorism, with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar saying in June, “we are up to our necks – terrorists set a war on us”. But a Reuters article published today has analysed figures provided by human rights organisation Reprieve, and Amnesty International, to reveal that fewer than 1 in 6 of those executed were in any way ‘linked to militancy’.

Commenting, Reprieve caseworker Kate Higham, said: “Pakistan’s relentless attempts to hang Shafqat Hussain are outrageous enough given he was convicted and sentenced as a child following days of brutal torture. That the government is intent on killing him in the face of massive condemnation over their handling of his case by a statutory human rights body is truly shocking. Moreover this comes days after they have set an execution date for a paraplegic man and another for a man suffering from schizophrenia. Pakistan must stay all executions so that all instances of torture and juvenility can be fully investigated.”

Source: Reprieve, July 27, 2015

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