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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…

What It’s Like to Almost Get Executed

Holding cells in San Quentin's news death chamber
Holding cells in San Quentin's new death chamber
San Quentin inmate Kevin Cooper on watching the minutes tick away on his life.

This article was published in collaboration with Vice.

I was supposed to be executed one minute after midnight on February 10, 2004.In the lead up to that day, I was moved to a new cell where prison guards could check in on me every hour to “make sure I was all right.” The prison also started sending a psychiatrist — it was clear that they wanted to make sure I was not going to commit suicide.

This went on for a few days, and then things slowly started to get more intense. I was awakened in the middle of the night, handcuffed, taken out of the cell, and placed against a wall. One of the guards started taking photos of me and said that these were the last images the world would see of me.

One day I was taken to the Lieutenant’s office, where she and a prison doctor were waiting. The Lieutenant told me to pull the sleeve of one of my arms up so that they could see my veins. I initially resisted, so the Lieutenant left and returned with a tourniquet in her hand. She tied it around my arm, and all my veins came to the surface. Then she and the doctor went about their task of documenting the good veins in my right arm. She did the same to my left. 

About a week after that, I was taken to see another doctor for a check-up. The doctor took my blood pressure. 

It was high. 

Throughout my whole ordeal, I kept being asked what I wanted my last meal to be. Someone asked me if I wanted a Tombstone pizza. 

My friends would come and spend time with me, as would attorneys. They had replaced my appeals lawyer, who damn near got me executed by not using the information we had to argue there’d been evidence-tampering. My lawyers kept coming to see me and updating me on what the were doing to save my life, but I honestly did not believe they could stop the state from putting me to death.

Then came February 9, my last day.

At 6 p.m., we were told visiting was over, and it was. I was taken to the rear of the visiting room and placed inside a cage and told to take off all my clothes. I was strip-searched, given another set of clothes and shoes, and placed in waist chains. Guards formed two lines — I was in the middle — and we marched out of the visiting room search area to the door of the execution waiting room.


Kevin Cooper is a 58-year-old inmate at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California. He was convicted of a quadruple-murder in Chino Hills, Calif. in 1983, and has claimed innocence and petitioned for clemency ever since. According to his lawyer, Norman Hile at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, all of Cooper’s appeals have been denied, and his only remaining avenue is to file a petition for clemency with Governor Jerry Brown.

Source: The Marshall Project, March 31, 2016

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