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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 Supreme Court's death penalty reversal makes sense

The Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the death sentence of Rayshawn Johnson in a 4-3 ruling that found a murderer's troubled upbringing, among other mitigating factors, should carry more weight at sentencing than a lower court had held.

Ohio Supreme Court cites dysfunctional childhood in reversing death sentence

The court found factors in Rayshawn Johnson's childhood and upbringing were so bad that when viewed together they were strong enough to warrant setting aside the death sentence. He was "doomed from the start due to his upbringing," Justice Paul Pfeifer wrote.

Johnson, who beat his Cincinnati neighbor to death with a baseball bat in 1997, had been on death row for 14 years.

In a 2nd mitigation hearing ordered for Johnson (the 1st also resulted in a death sentence), Johnson's mother acknowledged putting her son in a closet as a baby and sometimes spiking his bottles and applesauce with alcohol, prescription drugs and heroin.

Siding with the majority in reversing Johnson's death sentence was Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, who in 2006, in the case of Troy Tenace, had opposed the court's then-precedent-setting ruling that a dysfunctional childhood could outweigh death-penalty aggravating circumstances.

In the Tenace case, O'Connor, who was not yet chief justice, noted that the court had reversed death sentences twice previously -- one based on the mental illness of the defendant and the other on provocation by the victims.

In the Johnson case, O'Connor did not file a separate opinion, so it's not clear what lay behind her apparent change of heart.

Still, it's reasonable to think that the views of the court are evolving when it comes to the death penalty. That's a good thing.

As this page has said before, the death penalty is immoral, unfair and a drain on the taxpayer. It should be abolished.

Source: cleveland.com, Editorial, December 4, 2015

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