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…

Florida executes Jerry Correll

Jerry Correll
Jerry Correll
Jerry Correll, 59, was executed tonight by lethal-injection at Florida State Prison in Raiford. He was pronounced dead at 7:36 p.m.

Jerry Correll was scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m., but it appears the state waited on a last appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court denied Correll's stay of execution around 6:40 p.m. without comment. He was executed after 7 p.m.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying Correll's execution should be delayed while the court decides whether Florida's capital punishment system is constitutional.

The system says the jury's vote on whether to impose a death sentence is only advisory with the judge making the final decision.

Breyer also said keeping a prisoner on death row for 30 years constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The Orlando man was sentenced to die for stabbing to death his ex-wife, Susan, their 5-year-old daughter Tuesday, and Susan's mother and sister in 1985.

McKinley Lewis, communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections, held a press briefing in the afternoon providing details about Correll's final hours before his execution.

He woke up for the last time at 6 a.m. He ate his last meal at 10 a.m. – a cheeseburger, French fries and a Coke. He spoke with his spiritual advisor one last time for nearly two hours. And he talked on the phone with his daughter one last time.

The execution was a long-time coming for family members.

"Jerry Correll mercilessly and brutally killed four family members more than 30 years ago," State Attorney Jeff Ashton said in a statement. "The Hines family and our community may finally get the justice a jury and judge believed is deserved."

The scene Correll left behind at the Conway-area home was among the bloody and gory, police and prosecutors said at the time.

Controversial drug

The execution was the first in the nation since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June which allowed the use of midazolam, a sedative that is part of the three-drug protocol used in Florida executions.

A group of Oklahoma death-row inmates said the drug was ineffective in adequately making inmates unconscious, and point to botched executions where inmates have shown signs they are suffering from pain by gasping and clenching their fists.

In Correll's appeals, his lawyers said because of his previous drug and alcohol-use, the drug would not work on him. But the Florida Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected the argument.

In earlier appeals, Correll's attorneys argued he was abused by his alcoholic father and became a drug addict. They also indicated the deaths were a drug hit, but never offered any details.

Correll becomes the second inmate executed in Florida this year, and the 91st since 1979, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

There's only two other executions in the nation scheduled this year, in Texas and Missouri, and only four next year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

States such as Ohio have stayed all executions because it is having trouble obtaining the necessary drugs.

A U.S. Supreme Court regarding whether all death penalties should have a jury unanimous in sentencing death also is pending.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said using midazolam is risky.

"Most of states that have the death penalty are staying away from midazolam," Dunham said. "They're staying away from it because what everybody else has seen, and that is there is a real risk that the prisoner will feel intense pain."

'Heinous, atrocious and cruel'

Susan Correll, 25, suffered stab wounds throughout her body, including some that weren't fatal.

Her mother, 48-year-old Mary Lou Hines, had defensive wounds, apparently from protecting 5-year-old Tuesday, before both were killed. Tuesday was wearing her pajamas and clutching a doll.

Florida State Prison in Raiford
Florida State Prison in Raiford
Susan's sister Marybeth Jones was out on a date during the initial killings. She entered through a side door and didn't see the carnage on the other side of the house. She was getting a glass of water in the kitchen when Correll attacked, dragging her to her bedroom where he stabbed her to death.

Their bodies were found on July 1, 1985, by a neighbor and Susan's co-worker.

Correll showed up to the scene, with cuts to his hand and acted "inappropriately" for a man who just found out his daughter and ex-wife were killed, Orange County Sheriff's deputies said at the time. He was arrested the next day.

At the trial, Correll's defense attorneys argued that he was with a woman at Lake Toho getting high at the time of the slayings, but the woman was never found.

A jury of 10 women and 2 men, selected in Sarasota because all the publicity locally, convicted Correll of four counts of first-degree murder after a week-long trial. They sentenced him to die in a 10-2 vote.

Judge R. James Stroker in sentencing Correll to death called Tuesday's death "especially heinous, atrocious and cruel."

Correll becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Florida and the 91st overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1979. Only Texas (530), Oklahoma (110 and Virginia (111) have executed more inmates since the death penalty was re-legalized on July 2, 1976.

Correll becomes the 25th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1419th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, Rick Halperin, DPN staff (Twitter feed), October 29, 2015

Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com

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