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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…

Georgia to Execute Its Oldest Death Row Inmate Next Month

Brandon Astor Jones
Brandon Astor Jones
Georgia plans to execute its oldest death row inmate next month, the state's attorney general announced Wednesday.

Brandon Astor Jones, 72, is scheduled to be put to death Feb. 2 at the state prison in Jackson, the office of Attorney General Sam Olens said in a news release. Jones was convicted of killing Roger Tackett, the manager of a Tenneco convenience store in Cobb County, during a robbery in 1979.

A federal judge later ordered a new sentencing hearing for Jones because jurors had improperly been allowed to bring a Bible into the deliberation room. Jones was resentenced to death in 1997.

The U.S. Supreme Court in October rejected an appeal from Jones. A divided Georgia Supreme Court and the federal appeals court in Atlanta had previously upheld his death sentence.

According to evidence at his trial, Jones and Van Roosevelt Solomon were arrested at the scene by a Cobb County policeman who had driven a stranded motorist to the convenience store to use a pay phone at around 1:45 a.m. on June 17, 1979. The officer knew the store usually closed at midnight and was suspicious when he saw a car out front with the driver's side door open and lights still on inside the store.

Through the front window, he saw Jones stick his head out of the storeroom door at the back of the store and look around before closing the door, prosecutors have said. The officer entered the store and drew his weapon after hearing four shots.

He yelled, "Police, come on out," and approached the storeroom when no one responded. He found Jones and Solomon just inside the storeroom door and took them into custody, prosecutors have said.

Tests showed each man had recently fired a gun or handled a recently fired gun. The cash drawer had been removed and was found wrapped in a plastic bag.

Solomon, who was also convicted and sentenced to death, was executed in Georgia's electric chair in February 1985.

Source: The Associated Press, January 13, 2016


Oldest man on Georgia Death Row to be executed

A signal that Georgia is continuing its stepped-up pace in carrying out the death penalty, a judge signed a warrant Wednesday authorizing the execution of the oldest man on Georgia’s Death Row.

Brandon Astor Jones will be put to death for the 1979 murder of the manager of a Cobb County convenience store who had stayed late to do paperwork. If the lethal injection is carried out as planned, Jones will die just 11 days shy of his 73rd birthday and almost 31 years to the day after his co-defendant was electrocuted for Roger Tackett’s June 16, 1979, murder.

Co-defendant Van Roosevelt Solomon’s execution came relatively quickly, on Feb. 20, 1985, less than six years after Tackett’s murder.

Jones was first sentenced to die on Oct. 11, 1979, but a federal court ordered him re-sentenced because there was a Bible in the jury room during deliberations. Jones was sentenced to death a second time on Sept. 23, 1997.

At one time, Jones had argued that sentencing him after he had spent almost two decades on Death Row was an affront to human dignity and “waiting for execution is intolerably cruel.”

The appellate courts disagreed. Jones exhausted all the regular appeals last October when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take his case.

He does, however, have a complaint pending in U.S. District Court regarding Georgia’s law that allows the Department of Corrections to keep secret the identify of the pharmacist who will make the pentobarbital that will be used to put Jones to death.

Jones stands to be the oldest man Georgia has executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s. The oldest man so far was Andrew Brannon, 66 when he died by lethal injection a year ago.

Jones’ execution could be the first of five lethal injections expected to be scheduled over the next few weeks and months as other men on Georgia’s Death Row have exhausted their appeals. That number could increase as there are 10 now before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last year Georgia put to death four men and a woman, the largest number of executions this state has carried out in a year since 1987, when Georgia also executed five murderers, all electrocuted.


Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rhonda Cook, January 13, 2016

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