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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…

Ohio court sets aside death penalty for Hamilton County killer

The Ohio Supreme Court has set aside the death penalty for a Hamilton Co. man convicted of killing his neighbor.

Rayshawn Johnson was convicted of killing Shanon Marks with a baseball bat in 1997. He was sentenced to death in 1998, but appealed in 2006.

At that time, a federal court agreed with Johnson that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel during the mitigation phase of his trial and instructed the state to either commute Johnson's death sentence or hold a new mitigation hearing.

A new jury recommended death again in January 2012.

In Tuesday's decision, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected Johnson's arguments, but in an independent investigation, found that that the aggravating circumstances in the case were not outweighed beyond a reasonable doubt by the mitigating factors.

Justice Paul E. Pfeifer wrote that the aggravating circumstances in this case were not outweighed beyond a reasonable doubt by the mitigating factors. Pfeifer described the cumulative effect of multiple mitigating factors, including Johnson's ill-fated childhood, which when considered together made a sentence of death inappropriate.

The Court described the evidence presented in mitigation during the hearing.

Johnson's mother, who did not testify at Johnson's first trial, stated that she had Johnson when she was 16 years old and explained that she often put him in a closet when he was an infant and also gave him prescription drugs and heroin in his bottle or applesauce. When Johnson was 12 or 13, she taught him how to drink and how to take and deal drugs.

Johnson's grandmother, who was responsible for him and a younger brother for several years, said she whipped and hit the boys and that drinking alcohol was her priority.

A psychologist who evaluated Johnson testified that the defendant was never taught right from wrong. He diagnosed Johnson with a form of depression as well as alcohol and marijuana addictions.

Pfeifer reasoned that this dysfunctional, troubled background was entitled to significant weight as a mitigating factor when evaluating the death sentence. The Court also gave some weight to several other issues.

The court set aside the death penalty in a 4-3 vote.

In reviewing all the factors combined, the Court determined they held "great cumulative weight" to the point that the aggravating circumstances did not outweigh the mitigating issues beyond a reasonable doubt. Acknowledging this was the pointless and inexcusable killing of an innocent woman, Justice Pfeifer concluded, however, that a sentence of death was not appropriate in this case.

The case will return to the trial court for resentencing.

Source: WLWT news, December 1, 2015

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