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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: Parole Board weighing arguments for and against Jones’ execution

Brandon Astor Jones
Brandon Astor Jones
The 5 members of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles are now weighing the arguments from family and advocates for condemned killer Brandon Astor Jones against the statements from prosecutors and the victim’s family in deciding if the 72-year-old man should live or die tomorrow night.

Jones’ attorneys spent three hours and 15 minutes with the board this morning. Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds, former District Attorney Tom Charron, who prosecuted Jones and his co-defendant in 1979, and murder victim Roger Tackett’s family met with the board for an hour in the afternoo.

The members do not discuss with each other the case when deciding whether to commute before they take a vote. It takes three votes to either sustain the death sentence or to commute it to life without parole. A decision could come today.

“The death penalty is just punishment (in this case),” Reynolds said after the meeting.

Reynolds disagreed with Jones’ lawyers claims that Jones should be spared because of his age — Jones’ 73rd birthday is Valentine’s Day — and his increasing dementia. Reynolds said he had read Jones’ writings, many posted on the internet, and found nothing to suggest he was failing mentally.

Jones and Van Roosevelt Solomon were both convicted of murder and sentenced to die in separate trials just months after the Father’s Day murder almost 37 years ago. If Jones is executed as scheduled — 7 p.m. Tuesday — he will be the oldest man Georgia has ever executed.

Tackett, a former teacher, had locked up the store that he managed at midnight. But he stayed to complete paperwork so he could be free to attend Mass with his 7-year-old daughter and his wife.

Jones and Solomon were attempting to burglarize the store when they shot Tackett, 35.

But a Cobb County police officer was dropping off a stranded motorist so she could use the Tenneco pay phone when he heard the shots. Within moments, officer Roy Kendall had the two in custody, and then he found Tackett on the storeroom floor, dead in a pool of his own blood.

Solomon was electrocuted for Tackett’s murder on Feb. 2, 1985, but four years after that a federal judge ordered Jones’ a new trial because the jurors who had condemned him had, had a Bible in the room during deliberations.

In 1997, another Cobb County jury again sentenced Jones to die.

Jones lawyers and supporters declined to speak to reporters after the hearing as did Katie Tackett King, Tackett’s daughter, and Christine, Bixon, Tackett’s widow who married again several years after the murder.

But Charron and Reynolds took questions.

They said the only thing the board asked was which shot killed Tackett and how long did he linger after suffering the first of five wounds. Charron said Tackett was alive for some time because he aspirated blood. Charron also insisted that Tackett’s thumb was shot off almost tw0 hours before he died, a claim Jones’ lawyers have challenged in their filings. Jones lawyers say Tackett’s thumb was not shot off but was struck by a bullet that also struck him in the head.

It was never determined who fired the fatal shot to the back of his head. Jones and Solomon both had gunpowder residue on their hands and they blamed each other.

If Jones is executed, Charron said, “it will bring closure to this family and to me and to the justice system in Cobb County.”

While the Parole Board was hearing the Jones’ case, the 11th U.S. Circuit was still considering Jones’ challenge to the state’s secrecy law that protects the identity of the pharmacist who will make the pentobarbital that will be used to put him to death. The appellate court ruled last week that Jones could not revisit his claims that he had bad legal representation but they said they would comment in a later opinion on the issue around the state’s secrecy law.

Source: Atlanta Jounral-Constitution, February 1, 2016

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