FEATURED POST

Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Image
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…

Texas executes James Freeman

James Freeman
James Freeman
A man convicted in the 2007 shooting death of a Texas game warden in Wharton County was executed Wednesday evening.

James Freeman, 35, was killed by lethal injection just after 6 p.m. inside the Walls Unit, more than 9 years after he fatally shot Justin Hurst.

He was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital and died at 6:30 p.m., according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

He declined to give a final statement.

It was the second execution in Texas this year and the fourth in the United States. Eight more executions are scheduled in the state through July. Texas executed 13 people last year. 

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month refused to review Freeman's case, and his attorney, Don Vernay, didn't plan any new appeals to try to block the execution from happening Wednesday.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday declined a clemency petition from Freeman.

Freeman was suspected of illegally hunting at night from his truck in Southeast Texas' Wharton County when a game warden spotted him. Freeman sped away, leading authorities on a 90-minute chase that reached 130 mph. It ended near a cemetery not far from his home in Lissie with Freeman stepping out of his disabled pickup truck and shooting at officers.

He emptied his 11-shot .357-caliber handgun, then switched to an AK-47 assault rifle with a 30-round clip.

When it was over, Freeman had been shot four times and Justin Hurst, a Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden who had joined the March 17, 2007, chase, was fatally wounded. It was Hurst's 34th birthday.

Steve Lightfoot, an agency spokesman who knew Hurst, said the married father of a 4-month-old son represented "the very essence of what this agency is about and what game wardens are about."

"He was very passionate in his role concerning the state's resources and protecting those resources," Lightfoot said.

18 Texas game wardens, including Hurst, have died in the line of duty since game wardens began enforcing conservation laws in 1895. Hurst had been with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for 12 years, the last 5 as a game warden.

Texas' Death House and Death Chamber, "The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, TX
Texas' Death House and Death Chamber, "The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, TX
Hurst was an alligator and waterfowl specialist before moving to law enforcement. A state wildlife management area where he once worked in Brazoria County and about 60 miles south of Houston now carries his name.

Vernay said Freeman's lack of a previous criminal record should have influenced jurors he didn't deserve the death penalty, which in Texas requires a jury to find a capital murder offender would be a continuing threat.

"This is a troublesome case," the appeals lawyer said. "He never did anything wrong in his life other than a DUI. This kid was not a future danger, he was just a loser. ... He got drunk and got in a shooting."

A psychologist testifying at Freeman's trial said Freeman told him he drank about 9 beers while watching a football game on TV at his home and then decided to drive around and shoot snakes and birds that night - something he enjoyed doing.

Freeman's trial lawyer, Stanley Schneider, said heavy alcohol use and severe depression led the unemployed welder to try to commit "suicide by cop" in his confrontation with officers.

"It was totally senseless," Schneider said of the fatal shooting. "It really is very sad that it happened, that 2 families are suffering like this."

Prosecutors convinced jurors that Freeman had an uncontrollable and unpredictable temper. He was on probation after being convicted of driving while intoxicated, and it was about to be revoked because he had failed to comply with the terms, court records showed.

Freeman's lawyers said the unique thing about this case was Freeman's lack of a violent criminal history. He was on probation for a DWI at the time of the shooting, court documents said, but had never faced violent charges. During appeals, Freeman argued his good behavior in jail and lack of violent history indicated he would not be a future danger to society, an element that was necessary to sentence someone to death.

"The most difficult thing for people to grapple with on all sides of this case is the lack of criminal history in this fellow’s background and the extraordinary violence of this event," said Patrick McCann, Freeman’s lawyer for his direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “It’s so hard for people to look at the video of this encounter and not think that this was done by someone with a violent, vicious history.”

Freeman becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 15th overall since Greg Abbott became governor in January 2015. Freeman becomes the 533rd condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982.

Freeman becomes the 4th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1426th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: The Associated Press, The Texas Tribune, Rick Halperin, January 28, 2016

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Nevada law says chief medical officer must advise on executions despite ethical clash

Iran: Prisoners Hanged in Public While Crowd Watched

Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

20 Minutes to Death: Record of the Last Execution in France

Poorly executed - Indiana inmate challenges state's lethal cocktail change

Arkansas death-row inmate tries to drop appeal blocking execution; request denied

Russian who joined ISIS in Iraq sentenced to hanging

"I cannot execute convicted murderers," Tanzania's president declares

Iran: More Public Executions, Prisoner Hanged While Crowd Watched

Bali police officer admits to smuggling drugs into jail