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…

Glossip's attorneys plan to appeal U.S. Supreme Court for stay of execution

Richard Glossip
Richard Glossip
While the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a death row inmate's plea for a stay, his attorneys say they will not stop fighting.

Richard Glossip is set to die on Wednesday, Sept.

Glossip was convicted of murder for the 1997 death of motel owner Barry Van Treese, though Glossip wasn't the actual killer.

The man who bludgeoned Van Treese to death, Justin Sneed, testified that Glossip hired him for the murder.

On Monday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals denied Glossip's request for a stay of execution.

Source: bayoubuzz.com, Sept. 29, 2015

Divided Oklahoma Court Refuses To Halt Richard Glossip's Execution

The majority said "the legal principle of finality of judgment" trumps Glossip's claims of innocence.

A deeply divided Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals declined to halt again the upcoming execution of Richard Glossip, the Oklahoma inmate who was spared just hours before the state's third execution attempt on Sept. 16.

In a pair of orders issued Monday, Glossip's execution was reconfirmed for 3 p.m. Wednesday, in accord with a prior order where the court allowed for a 2-week window "out of abundance of caution" to resolve other motions his attorneys filed a day before his original execution date.

One by one, the court declined those motions, which included requests to grant Glossip a new post-conviction hearing to consider fresh evidence his defense team said casts serious doubts on his murder conviction.

"After reviewing Glossip's succesive application and motions, we find that the law favors the principle of finality of judgment," Judge David B. Lewis wrote for the court. "Moreover, Glossip has not shown that failure of this Court to review his claims would result in a miscarriage of justice."

Glossip's attorneys said they expect to file a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The court gave little credence to Glossip's claims that new circumstances called his guilt into question -- including evidence that the co-defendant and sole witness who testified against him, Justin Sneed, was not credible and that Glossip's previous defense counsel had been ineffective.

"This evidence merely builds on evidence previously presented to this Court," the court said.

With respect to Sneed -- Glossip's co-worker at the time of their boss' murder who secured a plea deal by implicating Glossip as the mastermind of the crime -- the court said his testimony was "sufficiently corroborated," that "no other trial witnesses have recanted their testimony" and that "Glossip has presented no credible evidence that the witnesses gave falsified testimony at trial."

Judge Robert Hudson, like Judge Lewis, was skeptical of the new evidence claims, characterizing the additional information advanced by Glossip's attorneys as "hearsay' that is "as dubious as that of a jailhouse informant."

But the orders caused division among the judges on the court, with all 5 judges writing separately to express their views on why Glossip should or shouldn't be granted a further reprieve from execution to consider the new evidence.

Presiding Judge Clancy Smith was the chief dissenter, calling the evidence in the case "tenuous at best" if Sneed in fact recanted earlier testimony implicating Glossip and rejecting the notion that finality trumps justice.

"While finality of judgment is important, the State has no interest in executing an actually innocent man," Smith said, and added he would have granted Glossip additional time to prove that Sneed had a change of heart.

Judge Arlene Johnson went even further, calling Glossip's trial "deeply flawed" and reiterating misgivings she expressed in 2007 when a "bare majority" of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his murder conviction. She dissented from that decision as well.

"Because I believe Glossip did not receive a fair trial, I cannot join in the denial of this successive post-conviction application that further calls into doubt the fairness of the proceeding and the reliability of the result," Johnson wrote. Quoting from a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 2014, she wrote that a sentence of death is "the gravest penalty our society may impose" and that those facing it "must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution."

The motel where Barry Van Treese was bludgeoned to death
The motel where Barry Van Treese was bludgeoned to death
Glossip's defense gave the appellate court stacks of new evidence they said further weakened the case against him. Testimony from experts and witnesses backed the defense's claims that Sneed lied to police to save himself from a death sentence.

Newly revealed discrepancies in the medical examiner's hugely influential testimony raised further questions as to whether the jury at Glossip's retrial was misinformed, his attorneys said.

After Glossip's most recent execution date was put on hold 2 weeks ago, his federal defense attorney filed a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from executing Glossip using midazolam, a controversial sedative used in several of Oklahoma's previously botched lethal injections. Glossip should be executed with pentobarbital, a less risky drug used in states such as Texas, attorneys argued.

But on Wednesday, the petition was withdrawn. Dale Baich, Glossip's federal public defender, said they were unable to prove pentobarbital was available.

And in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma's use of midazolam is constitutional.

In a statement issued when Glossip's execution was first put on hold, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said she'd abide by the the legal process.

Glossip was convicted in 2004 for the murder of motel owner Barry Van Treese. Sneed, the hotel handyman, confessed to beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat but later secured a plea deal for life without parole in exchange for testimony against Glossip.

There was no physical evidence linking Glossip to the crime, and his defense has long criticized the state's decision to prosecute him based on the testimony of the admitted killer.

Source: Huffington Post, Kim Bellware & Christian Farias, Sept. 29, 2015

Nun pleads for the life of American man on death row

Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean
A nun in Oklahoma has made an emotional last ditch plea to save the life of a man on death row.

Richard Glossip faces execution after being convicted of murdering his boss, but he claims he has been framed.

The 52-year-old was sentenced to death on the basis of evidence from a colleague who said he ordered the murder.

This evidence meant the colleague was jailed and avoided the death penalty himself.

He has now lost a last-minute bid for a retrial to avoid his execution but a campaigning nun has intervened.

Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent campaigner against the death penalty, said if the execution goes ahead it is "very likely that Oklahoma will add the death of an innocent man to this record of mistakes".

Mr Glossip's lawyers claim they have a statement from a prisoner who claims to have overheard his colleague boast about implicating him.

There is now a chance for a last attempt to save him at the US Supreme Court.

Sister Prejean and Oscar winning actress Susan Sarandon have made several appearances on US TV appealing for clemency.

"With the U.S. Supreme Court's recent refusal to look at the constitutionality of the death penalty, it falls on the people of Oklahoma to take a deeper look, not only into Glossip's case, which is greatly flawed with loopholes, but at the faults of our system of capital punishment," the nun said.

She added: "The outcry of the people is fair, people have a sense of justice - and they say 'well he's had these trials,' but then they say, you mean a man is going to his death on the word of a 19 year old kid, who was under threat of the death penalty himself, who saw a lawyer one time.

"He delivered to them what they needed to save his own life.

"There's not a fingerprint of Richard Glossip's on the money, there's no forensic evidence to corroborate what Sneed said.

"Solely on Sneed's testimony Richard Glossip is going to his death."

Source: premier.org.uk, Sept. 29, 2015

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