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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 Death Row Inmate Sentenced to Life over Intellectual Disability

Jose Noey Martinez
Jose Noey Martinez
A man who fatally stabbed a 68-year-old woman and her 4-year-old granddaughter during a 1995 burglary in Hidalgo County will no longer face execution after he has been determined to be intellectually disabled.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, changed Jose Noey Martinez's sentence Wednesday to life in prison. The court agreed with a lower court's ruling that Martinez, now 40, “is a person with intellectual disability” and “is constitutionally ineligible for a death sentence.” Martinez had been on death row almost 20 years.

Martinez broke into the home of Esperanza Palomo to steal a TV and stereo, according to court documents. Palomo was babysitting her blind granddaughter, Amanda. Shortly after breaking in, Palomo confronted Martinez with a baseball bat. He stabbed the grandmother, who fell to the ground immediately, and raped her.

After killing the woman, Martinez told law enforcement, he heard the granddaughter crying in another room, court documents show. He told officers that he stabbed her to death.

A Hidalgo County jury found Martinez guilty of capital murder in 1996 and sentenced him to death.

On appeal, Martinez's attorneys had claimed that he is mentally retarded and argued that executing him would violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Once the Texas Department of Criminal Justice receives paperwork from the appeals court, Martinez will be taken to the Byrd Unit in Huntsville, agency spokesman Jason Clark said in an email.

"He will be interviewed, and information will be gathered about his family structure, criminal and social behavior, drug and alcohol involvement, military and institutional experience, as well as education and employment history," he said. "The results of the tests and interviews are the basis for classification decisions that determine the unit of assignment, the level of security supervision, housing and job assignments and time-earning status."

Source: The Texas Tribune, Jonathan Silver, June 15, 2016

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