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…

Trinidad and Tobago CJ: Death penalty not denting serious crime but let's talk about it

Trinidad and Tobago flag
Chief Justice Ivor Archie has called for a serious and meaningful national debate on the mandatory death penalty for murder. He made the plea yesterday in his annual address at the opening of the 2015/2016 law term at the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port-of-Spain.

Pointing to statistics showing that 514 people are currently on remand awaiting trial for murder, Archie questioned the effectiveness of the controversial sentence in the reduction of violent crime in T&T.

Archie said: "Apart from the dubiousness of its value as a deterrent, do we really believe, assuming that a significant fraction of those persons are found guilty, that we will be able to hang several hundred people or that, if we tried, we could stomach it?"

While he was careful to underscore the Judiciary's neutral role on legislative issues, Archie claimed the Judiciary's input was necessary as it was the "independent and apolitical" organisation which is mandated to execute the sentence.

"Please do not misunderstand me. The question whether we have a mandatory death penalty or any death penalty at all is a matter for the legislature and the people of T&T but as the ones who pass the death sentences, we must ask, is there a sense in futility in doing so?

"And we must ask questions about the tactical difficulties of implementation. What are we going to do? Schedule 1 a day, or do it in groups? So what is the real problem and what can we do about it?" he asked. Archie's comments come hours after the murder toll for 2015 crossed the 300 toll on Tuesday after a 12-year-old student was innocently killed during a gang-related shooting in Gonzales.

The last State-sanctioned execution took place in 1999 when Dole Chadee and his gang of 8 were executed for the quadruple murders of the Baboolal family. Another man, Anthony Briggs, was also executed that year for the murder of a PH taxi driver. Since then, legislation proposing to categorise murders into 1st and 2nd degrees has been laid in Parliament and debated but was never approved.

There has been a chorus of dissent by some in society to move away from the Privy Council, this country's highest appellate court, in favour of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) after landmark rulings which deemed the mandatory death penalty as unconstitutional.

Archie echoed the sentiment yesterday as he called for serious consideration of that issue by saying: "Why we still have a highest appellate court that one cannot access unless you are very rich or you are charged with murder and someone agrees to represent you for free."

In addition to the death penalty and the CCJ, Archie also stated that failure of the Prisons Service to rehabilitate offenders was also an area of concern. "So collectively we turn a blind eye to harsh and inhumane prison conditions when all the empirical research tells us that there is a positive correlation between a more humane, restorative approach to incarceration and lower rates of recidivism.

"The only punishment intended by a custodial sentence should be the deprivation of liberty," Archie said as he revealed that it costs the State $13,000 a month to incarcerate a prisoner. He also took issue with the merits of passing lengthy prison sentences on convicted criminals.

"Common sense tells us that we cannot incarcerate our way out of our social problems and crime in general because many studies internationally show a positive correlation between longer sentences and higher rates of recidivism as well as between higher overall rates of incarceration per capita and higher rates of recidivism," Archie said. He also preached for the need of converting T&T into a more secular state.

"Common sense tells me we need more respect for fundamental human rights because studies do not support the notion that professed adherence to any recognised religion is associated with reduced rates of violent crime. In fact, there is a considerable body of evidence to the contrary," Archie said.

As part of his continuous call to citizens to adopt a common sense approach when seeking solutions to issues, Archie advised against lumping blame for the country's crime rate on his organisation. "People need to stop blaming us for those aspects of the justice system that are outside our control. We need a little common sense here.

"What can I do about low crime detection rates or inadequate evidence or no proper detention facilities or slow forensic analysis or a shortage of attorneys at the criminal bar or prisoners arriving late for court despite our admonitions?" Archie asked. Although he admitted that most of the issues raised by him during his speech were highlighted by him in the past, Archie suggested that constant reminders may be the impetus for eventual change.

"Those who have listened to my past addresses may find that some of what I have to say today may sound repetitive but it has been my experience that sound arguments and exhortations often require repetition before they are noted and acted upon," Archie added.

Source: The Guardian, September 17, 2015

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