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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…

Exonerated death row inmate can sue Ohio: state supreme court

Dale Johnston, 82,spent six years on Ohio death row for a double murder he did not commit.
Dale Johnston, 82,spent six years on Ohio death row for a double murder he
did not commit.
An Ohio man who spent six years on death row for a double murder he did not commit can pursue a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the state, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

Dale Johnston, 82, was found guilty in 1984 of murdering his stepdaughter and her fiance and sent to death row where he remained until his conviction was overturned in 1990.

He was released from prison after a court granted a motion to suppress his initial police interrogation and a series of rulings found that prosecutors failed to disclose key evidence and that testimony from a hypnotized witness was inadmissible.

Johnston sued Ohio for wrongful imprisonment in 1993, but a court ruled he had not proven he did not commit the murders.

After police reopened the case in 2008, Chester McKnight pleaded guilty to the murders and three years later Johnston won in a second wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the state.

An appeals court overturned Johnston's victory, finding that a state law amendment in 2003 that allows for procedural errors to be taken into account in wrongful imprisonment cases did not apply retroactively. He appealed to the state's top court.

In an unanimous ruling on Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the state law change should have been applied retroactively, reversing the appeals court decision and sending the case back to the trial court.

Johnston's lawyer could not be reached immediately for comment.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office will challenge the case at the trial court because it believes the lawsuit falls outside the statute of limitations and should not be allowed after the first one failed, spokesman Dan Tierney said.

Source: Reuters, Brendan O'Brien, October 29, 2015


Ohio: Former death row inmate urges repeal of ultimate penalty

Joe D'Ambrosio: “If this can happen to me, it can happen to you.”
Joe D'Ambrosio: “If this can happen to me, it can happen to you.”
Death row inmate Joe D’Ambrosio articulated Wednesday in personal terms how it felt to be exonerated of murder after decades behind bars.

“It was surreal,” he said. “It truly is because you dream of that day. They had my body but not my mind.”

D’Ambrosio, who resided more than 20 years in an Ohio prison on a capital conviction before he was freed in 2012, said he was falsely accused and the victim of perjury by a killer angling for a plea bargain. Surviving captivity led D’Ambrosio to participate in the Witness to Innocence organization and contribute to campaigns to repeal the death penalty.

“If this can happen to me, it can happen to you,” the U.S. military veteran said. “I have to put a stop to it. I think that’s why God saved me.”

He said court-appointed legal representation at his murder trial, which set a record for brevity at less than three days, was inadequate. He expected to benefit from a Cleveland public defender on the order of television’s Perry Mason, but “what I ended up having was Barney Fife.”

He spoke of his legal nightmare to a group at Washburn University. The event was sponsored by the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty and Ichtus Campus Ministry.

In September 1988, a jogger found the body of a teen in a Cleveland creek whose throat was slashed and chest stabbed. D’Ambrosio was among three men charged with murder.

One defendant pleaded guilty, received a 15-year sentence and testified against D’Ambrosio and the third suspect, who separately were convicted and sentenced to death.

D’Ambrosio said he was at home asleep during the slaying. A priest with legal and medical training who visited death row inmates agreed to look into his case, and his diverse training enabled him to detect irregularities in the case.

“It’s God sent and not luck,” D’Ambrosio said. “He had to be the priest. He had to be the attorney. He had to be the registered nurse.”

In a 2004 appeal, D’Ambrosio’s attorneys uncovered a trove of information hidden at trial. His conviction was vacated in 2006, and he was released after the state didn’t proceed with a new trial.

Appellate court decisions in 2011 and 2012 precluded renewed prosecution of D’Ambrosio.

Source: CJ Online, Tim Carpenter, October 29, 2015

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