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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 inmate spared execution: Lawyers agree on Druery's mental incompetence

Marcus Druery
Marcus Druery
Lawyers agreed Monday that Brazos County death row inmate Marcus Druery is unfit to be executed for the 2002 slaying of a 20-year-old man in rural Brazos County.

Druery's attorneys filed more than 150 pages of reports from 2 mental health professionals saying Druery suffered from a major mental illness that renders him unable to understand why he was being punished.

One expert said Druery's illness is "characterized by paranoid and grandiose delusions" that "deprive him of a rational understanding of the connection between his crime and punishment." Another said Druery wrote letters from prison accusing Magic Johnson of impersonating him and claiming that he found the cure to HIV.

Prosecutors didn't contest the incompetency claims, but the court left the option open for Druery to be re-examined in the future if prosecutors feel there has been a change in his mental capacities.

Druery's attorneys, Kate Black and Cathryn Crawford, hailed the judge's order and the state's decision not to contest the claims, according to a prepared statement.

"We are grateful to the [DA's] office for their decision not to contest Mr. Druery's claim that he is incompetent to be executed," Black said. "The state has the duty to make certain it does not violate the Constitution by executing an individual, like Mr. Druery, who suffers from a psychotic disorder that renders him incompetent for execution. We are pleased that they have taken that duty seriously."

Black, who was appointed to represent Druery after he was given an execution date in 2012, said Druery has been "seriously mentally ill" since 2009, and she doesn't expect that to change.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of an inmate who is declared incompetent at the time of the pending execution, regardless of whether that inmate was sane at the time of the offense and competent to stand trial at the time of trial.

Druery was sentenced to death in 2003 for robbing and killing 20-year-old Skyyler Browne on Halloween 2002. Druery, who was a classmate of Browne's at Texas State Technical College in Waco, shot the man in the head, took his cell phone, money and a bag of marijuana, and set the body on fire. Druery then went to his family's Brazos County ranch, where he dumped Browne's body into a stock pond.

Druery was set to be executed in August 2012, but was granted a stay by the state's highest criminal appeals court after his attorneys filed an appeal. The court ruled in 2013 that Druery's attorneys had presented enough evidence to warrant a competency hearing, which was conducted Monday after examinations and reports by mental health professionals.

Source: The Eagle, April 6, 2016

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