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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…

California: Death penalty overturned because of Bible quotes

Rudolph Roybal in 1992
Rudolph Roybal in 1992
A judge has overturned the death sentence in the murder of an Oceanside housewife, finding the prosecutor committed “egregious misconduct” by telling jurors the Bible calls for murderers to be sentenced to death.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller wrote that the repeated quotations and references to biblical law in the prosecutor’s closing statements were so inflammatory that they affected the outcome of Rudolph Roybal’s 1992 trial.

“The prosecutor’s improper argument presented an intolerable danger that the jury minimized its role as fact finder and encouraged jurors to vote for death because it was God’s will, and not that the imposition of the death penalty complied with California and federal law,” Miller wrote in a 226-page opinion granting Roybal’s appeal. The opinion was filed last week.

The judge also chastised Roybal’s defense attorneys, ruling they provided ineffective counsel by not objecting to the prosecutor’s inappropriate closing remarks.

“The failure of defense counsel to object to such egregious misconduct and secure an admonition deprived defendant of the fundamental fairness of a death penalty proceeding free from foul prosecutorial blows,” Miller said.

The ruling directs prosecutors to either grant Roybal, 59, a new penalty phase trial to determine if he should be sentenced to death, or to resentence him to life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors have about four months to decide how to proceed.

Prosecutors can also appeal the judge’s ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The District Attorney’s Office, which initially tried the case, said it is reviewing the ruling and declined to comment further Tuesday.

Roybal was a 33-year-old drifter who had come from Santa Fe, N.M., to stay with his half-brother for awhile in Oceanside in 1989.

Testimony at the trial in Vista Superior Court was rife with details about his horrific childhood. His mother drank alcohol while pregnant with him, then later neglected him, and at one point offered to give him up to appease her husband at the time, according to testimony. Roybal started drinking and sniffing paint at age 9 and suffered from various personality disorders.

By the time he made it to Oceanside, he’d already been convicted of six felonies, including a drug-fueled attack on a former girlfriend and a car chase that ended with his passenger firing shots at a pursuing police officer.


Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune, Kristina Davis, December 8, 2015

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