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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…

Florida Revamps Death Penalty, Making It Harder to Sentence Someone to Die

Florida's Death Chamber
Florida's Death Chamber
MIAMI — With Florida’s capital punishment system at a standstill, the state Senate passed a compromise bill on Thursday that would overhaul Florida’s death sentencing law, allowing the state to resume death penalty prosecutions by making it harder for juries to send someone to death row.

The legislation, which seeks to address the objections of the Supreme Court in its decision to strike down Florida’s capital punishment law, passed the Senate by a vote of 35 to 5. The measure will be sent to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it into law.

While the state Senate had sought a tougher, broader bill on death penalty sentencing, it agreed to a compromise with the more conservative Florida House. Florida has one of the more active death rows in the country, with 390 prisoners, and a brisk pace of executions. After the Supreme Court decision in January, two death row inmates were granted indefinite stays of execution pending, in part, a fix to Florida’s death penalty law. Death penalty prosecutions have mostly stalled in the courts.

The new legislation does not resolve the issue of when executions in the state would resume and which death row inmates, if any, would be resentenced to life in prison without parole under the expected new law. Those decisions will be left to the state courts.

The compromise bill would make it more difficult to hand down death sentences by requiring a jury vote of 10 to 2. Jurors currently can recommend a death sentence by a simple 7-to-5 majority vote. The change falls short of the unanimous verdict that death penalty critics in Florida sought for capital punishment cases. It continues to make Florida an outlier; only one other state, Alabama, allows a 10-to-2 death verdict as opposed to a unanimous decision in capital punishment cases.

Republican supporters of the bill said that if it became law, Florida’s death penalty system would be stronger and satisfy the Supreme Court.


Source: The New York Times, March 3, 2016

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