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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…

Texas prosecutor who sent man to death row for crime he didn’t commit seeks to keep law license

Anthony Graves
Anthony Graves
A lawyer for Charles Sebesta, the ex-prosecutor who secured the wrongful death sentence of Anthony Graves, told a panel of the State Bar of Texas on Friday that he should not be disbarred based on technicalities in the rules that govern lawyer discipline.

In June, the Texas State Bar revoked the law license of Sebesta, the former Burleson County district attorney, finding that he had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct in Graves’ wrongful conviction.

Graves was sentenced to death in 1994 and spent 18 years behind bars, including 12 on death row, for a fiery multiple murder. He was close to execution twice.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ conviction in 2010. The court found that Sebesta secured Graves’ conviction through several instances of prosecutorial wrongdoing, including withholding key evidence and suborning false testimony.

Sebesta appealed the disbarment, arguing that in 2007 the agency had already ruled that there was no cause to disbar him in response to an earlier complaint about his work in the Graves case.

In 2007, while Graves was still in prison, the Bar dismissed a complaint regarding Sebesta’s conduct in the case, finding that the statute of limitations on the alleged wrondgoing had expired.

Graves filed a new complaint in 2014, after lawmakers changed the statute of limitations for prosecutors accused of misconduct. Under the new law, those who have been wrongly convicted have up to four years after their release to seek discipline against prosecutors who engage in conduct such as withholding evidence and eliciting false testimony.

Jane Webre, who was defending Sebesta before the disciplinary board, argued that bar rules prevent the board from making a different ruling on Graves’ recent complaint after it already determined the former prosecutor wasn’t subject to disbarment for his role in that conviction.


Source: The Dallas Morning News, Brandi Grissom, January 29, 2016

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