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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…

Countdown to an Execution in Oklahoma

Richard Glossip
Richard Glossip
At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, the State of Oklahoma plans to execute Richard Glossip in the face of mounting evidence that he is innocent, as he has argued all along.

Mr. Glossip was convicted of masterminding the 1997 murder of a man named Barry Van Treese, who owned the motel where Mr. Glossip worked. The conviction was based on no physical evidence and relied largely on the testimony of Justin Sneed, the handyman who carried out the brutal killing with a baseball bat. Mr. Sneed is serving a life sentence without parole — a result of a deal he struck with prosecutors in exchange for testifying that he acted under Mr. Glossip’s orders.

Bad lawyering is behind most death sentences, and Mr. Glossip’s case is no exception. His first lawyer failed to introduce, among other things, Mr. Sneed’s videotaped confession, during which police interrogators threatened him and said it “is definitely going to be better for you” to testify against Mr. Glossip.

An appeals court threw out the conviction, finding that the case against Mr. Glossip was “extremely weak” and that his lawyers were ineffective. In 2004, he was convicted by a second jury, which also did not see the Sneed confession. At least one juror has stepped forward to say that had this and other information been presented at trial, the vote would have been different.

Last year, Mr. Sneed’s daughter wrote to the parole board to say she believes Mr. Glossip is innocent. Her father testified the way prosecutors wanted only to save his own life, she wrote, and would recant now but is afraid of losing his plea deal.

The Oklahoma County prosecutor, David Prater, has called the efforts to exonerate Mr. Glossip a PR campaign. That’s a remarkably dismissive thing to say when a man’s life is at stake. This case is yet another reminder that the death penalty — in addition to being immoral and ineffective — has already taken innocent lives, and as long as it exists it is likely to take more.


Source: New York Times, Editorial Board, Sept. 16, 2015

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