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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…

Roof jury selection underway in Charleston federal death penalty case

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
The 1st of some 3,000 potential jurors in the Dylan Roof death penalty trial began reporting Monday to the U.S. District courthouse in downtown Charleston.

Jurors were summoned, some 80 at a time, before U.S. Judge Richard Gergel, whose questions were aimed at weeding out those who obviously cannot or who will elect not to serve: people over 70, having no one else to care for young children and the like. Also to be excluded: those whose minds are already made up about Roof's guilty, or whether to impose the death penalty.

Roof, 22, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, is charged with federal hate crimes resulting in death in the June 2015 slayings of 9 African-Americans who were attending an evening Bible study at historic "Mother" Emanuel AME church downtown.

Of the first 80 prospective jurors in court on this morning, some 90 % were white. 9 were black. All were somber. Gergel deferred 2 teachers.

The initial jury selection is taking place in a relatively small courtroom on the 4th floor of an old federal courthouse on Broad Street. It has only about 80 seats, nearly all of which were taken up Monday by prospective jurors.

Gergel allowed a sketch artist, along with one pool print reporter to write accounts of what happened. Other journalists watched the proceedings on a flat-screen television in a nearby courtroom. Unlike state court, no cameras or reporters' tape recorders are allowed in federal court. The in-court proceedings in this story were furnished by the pool reporter.

Roof stared down at his defense table during much of the morning. During Monday's initial session, he appeared unemotional. In numerous pretrial hearings since last year, he has waived his right to be present in court.

The Roof case is set to be one of the most sensational criminal trials ever held in South Carolina, due to the racial dimensions of the case and the brutality of the crime.

Underscoring the emotionalism of the trial and the effect of publicity about the case, Judge Gergel has ordered dozens of pretrial documents to be kept secret so as not to taint the jury pool.

Roof also faces charges of murder in Charleston County state court. Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson is also seeking the death penalty in that case. Jury selection is set to begin in January in that case.

Monday's proceeding in federal court is designed to produce a smaller pool of some 700 prospective jurors. Those potential jurors will begin a more detailed questioning session on Nov. 7. The actual trial will not start until late November, observers estimate.

It's the opening day of a long, tedious and potentially confusing jury selection process in the Dylan Roof federal trial in the June 2015 slayings of 9 African-Americans at a historic downtown Charleston church.

Source: thestate.com, September 26, 2016

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