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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…

Pakistan: SHC rejects appeals of 3 death row convicts

3 death convicts who had sought commutation of their sentence into life imprisonment for being 'young offenders' lost their appeals before the Sindh High Court (SHC) on Saturday.

An anti-terrorism appellate bench, comprising justices Naimatullah Phulpoto and Aftab Ahmed Gorar, dismissed their appeals and maintained capital punishment awarded to them by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in a kidnapping case.

The bench passed its judgment after re-hearing appeals filed by convicts Qasim alias Umair, Farhan Khan and Raheel.

An ATC had awarded death sentences 'twice' to them after finding them guilty of kidnapping a 12-year-old boy for ransom and later murdering him in the limits of Landhi police station.

In April, 2013, the SHC had commuted the capital punishment handed down to them on the count of murder 'as the appellants were young boys at the time of incident' and the 'murder was not caused due to sectarian rivalry'.

However, the high court had maintained the death sentence awarded on the second count of kidnapping for ransom under the anti-terrorism law.

Later, the state challenged the commutation of their sentences from death to life imprisonment in the murder case before the Supreme Court (SC), which set aside the high court's judgment and directed the SHC bench to decide the 'quantum of sentence' of the appellants.

Advocate Abdul Rasheed Nizamani argued that the young age of the appellants constituted extenuating circumstances for lesser penalty for them. He claimed that Qasim was 21, Raheel 18 and Farhan 25 at the time they recorded their statements before the court.

The state prosecutor opposed the argument, saying 'the young age of the accused is not mitigating circumstance to convert the death to life imprisonment'. "There is no iota of reliable piece of evidence available on record of exact ages of the appellants," he added.

During the re-hearing, the appellants' lawyer did not press the merits of the appeals after the SC had already maintained conviction of the appellants, but pleaded that the court commute their capital punishment into life imprisonment, considering their young age.

Re-hearing the case on the apex court's directives, the SHC judges observed that the appellants had failed to produce any documentary evidence regarding their exact age.

The judges observed that the young age of Raheel and Qasim was not mitigating circumstance, while Farhan had himself mentioned his age in his statement as 25 years.

"We have given our anxious consideration for the determination of quantum of sentence to be awarded to the appellant in [the] present case, in which a boy of 12 year[s] has been murdered for ransom," the judges wrote in the 11-page judgment, in which they also relied upon the judgments given by the SC, which had dismissed appeals of death convicts requesting for converting their capital punishment into life terms.

The bench ruled that no benefit can be extended in favour of the appellants for their young ages, which does not constitute a mitigating circumstance in this case. The judges said that according to the prosecution, the appellants had kidnapped a boy for ransom and committed murder.

"Hence, [the] appellants do not deserve any leniency in sentence," they wrote in the judgment, upholding the ATC's death sentence and dismissing the appeals.

Source: The Express Tribune, April 30, 2016

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