Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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…

South Africa exhumes political prisoners hanged during apartheid

The refurbished gallows at Pretoria Central Prison, which have been out of use since 1989, the year of South Africa's last execution.
The refurbished gallows at Pretoria Central Prison, which have been out of
use since 1989, the year of South Africa's last execution.
South Africa on Wednesday commenced the exhumation of 83 political prisoners hanged at Pretoria Central Prison during the apartheid era, Justice Minister, Michael Masutha, said.

The minister said the remains would be identified and returned to their families.

Report says some 130 political prisoners were hanged on the gallows of the correctional centre between 1960 and 1990.

The remains of 47 of mainly members of the Pan Africanist Congress and United Democratic Front anti-apartheid organisations had been exhumed, while 83 of them remain buried in unmarked graves.

The apartheid government was widely criticised for its mass executions of anti-apartheid activists, most of them black South Africans.

The last execution carried out at the prison was of Solomon Ngobeni in November 1989, who was convicted of robbing a taxi driver.

The last woman executed was Sandra Smith, convicted for murder in June of the same year.

In February 1990, President Frederik Willem de Klerk declared a moratorium on executions in the country, while the death penalty was abolished in 1995.

However, many South Africans called for the death penalty to be reinstated after a surge in violent crimes and murders in the country.

A survey conducted in 2015 by the South African research group Pondering Panda found that over 3/4 of young South Africans wanted the death penalty back.

Source: Premium Times, March 24, 2016

Pretoria Central Prison gallows restored as museum to give victims' families closure

AT least 4003 convicted murderers, rapists and political prisoners walked up the 52 steps to be hanged at Pretoria Central Prison between 1921 and 1989.

And soon their families will be allowed to take that same walk in a bid to help them find closure. The refurbished gallows - dismantled under mysterious circumstances in '96 - are now being converted into a museum.

Minister of Correctional Services Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, whose department has been driving the initiative, will unveil the gallows on December 8.

She said the unveiling was her department's "small contribution towards paying homage and tribute to all South Africans who were executed. I would want SA to see this as part of a healing process and part of nation-building."

At least 130 political prisoners were executed there. Among them were Solomon Mahlangu, on April 9 1979, and five members of the Vulindlela family, Sadunge, Maliza, Shilegu, Bonase and Bekapansi, on July 3 1964.

Bekapansi was just 18 at the time, while John Harris - the only white political prisoner to die on Death Row - was executed on April 1 1965. He planted a bomb at Park Station in Johannesburg.

Mapisa-Nqakula said she was "very disturbed" on discovering earlier this year that the gallows had been dismantled and promptly instructed her staff to have them reinstalled.

She said people who worked at the gallows had also been deeply affected by their jobs.

"It left scars in their lives, and I want them to tell their story and go through this process of healing. They were never provided with therapy."

She said some of them were still employed by correctional services and felt "relief" after speaking to her.

"Among officials, I get a sense of relief that finally someone can listen to their stories and that they can share them with South Africans. For those who came out, I reassured them that the country had moved beyond a period of retribution."

She said her department was in the process of compiling a list of all officials who were still employed in the department and who had worked there.

"We are also working hard to trace families of those executed in the provinces. Obviously, we will require the assistance of the political parties."

The names of all 4003 inmates will be engraved on plaques and displayed at the gallows. There will also be murals and pictorials telling stories of what happened.

"We don't want to leave out the names of common-law criminals who were also executed, because we are saying that this [apartheid] was a system that was unjust, cruel and inhumane."

Mapisa-Nqakula said the gallows reminded her how wrong capital punishment was.

"I am totally against capital punishment. I would pray that some of the people who are now calling for the death penalty will find it upon themselves to walk through the path to the gallows, because, once you have done that, you will have a different view."

She said the walk up the flight of 52 stairs - dubbed the last walk - that led to the execution chamber was "emotionally draining".

"It's going to be traumatic for young people, but I want them to visit, because I think it will change their entire outlook on life."

This week the Sunday Times was given an exclusive peek of the refurbished gallows.

Builders were still hard at work breaking and rebuilding walls, including in the "pot" - cells which housed Death Row inmates for seven days before they were executed.

The original wardrobe holding huge hanger hooks for seven ropes, as well as a wooden yardstick for measuring the height of those about to be hanged, was still in the 73m² room. So too was the fan, which helped cool sweating officials as they prepared the prisoners for death.

The two trap-doors, measuring 18m² in total, were open. Above it were six neatly knotted nooses.

Department officials said a maximum of seven executions used to take place simultaneously. For some unknown reason, the execution of female prisoners used to take place 30 minutes earlier than that of male prisoners.

A messenger of the court, armed with a photograph of the prisoner, would verify his identity before a white hood was placed over his head.

Prisoners had to stand on a pair of footprints painted on the trap-door before their executioner released the lever.

Source: Times Live, Prega Govender, October 23, 2011

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