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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…

Alabama death row inmate’s appeal denied by Supreme Court

William Ernest Kuenzel
William Ernest Kuenzel
The U.S. Supreme Court today denied the appeal of death row inmate William Ernest Kuenzel, a former Goodwater resident sentenced in 1988 for the murder of Sylacauga convenience store clerk Linda Jean Offord.

Without comment, the justices turned down Kuenzel’s appeal petition, clearing away one of the last hurdles to Kuenzel’s execution.

Kuenzel was sentenced to death for killing Offord in a botched late-night robbery in 1987. An accomplice, Harvey Venn, served time in prison and has been released.

In recent years, Kuenzel attracted a widespread following of advocates who say he’s innocent. They cite a lack of physical evidence connecting Kuenzel to the crime – blood was found on Venn’s pants, but no similar evidence was found on Kuenzel – and a lack of reliable testimony.

Under state law, testimony from Venn, a co-defendant, isn’t enough to convict a man of murder. Kuenzel’s lawyers have challenged the testimony of another witness who placed Kuenzel at the crime scene – a teen who said she saw Venn and Kuenzel from a passing car. Grand jury testimony uncovered years after the case was tried showed that the teen witness was initially unable to say for certain that she saw Kuenzel at the convenience store that night.

Prosecutors have pointed to Kuenzel’s own testimony, noting that Kuenzel was convicted of perjury for trying to convince another inmate to provide him with an alibi.

The fate of Kuenzel’s appeals, however, has often come down to a matter of timing. Courts have refused to rehear Kuenzel’s case largely because his lawyers, early in the case, missed a deadline to file for appeal.

“We’re obviously disappointed that the Court didn’t review the case of an innocent man facing death, given that the key evidence has never once been substantively reviewed by any court and only because some paperwork supposedly missed a filing deadline in the 1990s,” wrote Eric Berman, the spokesman for Kuenzel’s legal team wrote in an email to The Anniston Star Monday.

A spokeswoman for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said the attorney general’s office had no comment.

Kuenzel was scheduled for execution in March 2015, but courts stayed his execution until his most recent appeal could be heard. Prosecutors will likely seek a new execution date; barring a new legal challenge, only Gov. Robert Bentley could stop that execution, by commuting Kuenzel’s sentence.

Earlier this year, Alabama lawmakers rejected a bill to create an innocence commission to hear claims innocence — a bill largely inspired by Kuenzel’s case. Berman, in his Monday email, called on the Legislature to take up that bill again.

Alabama recently resumed executions after a two-year hiatus brought on by a shortage of lethal injection drugs. Inmate Tommy Arthur, in prison for an early-1980s murder-for-hire, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday.

Source: Anniston Star, Tim Lockette, October 31, 2016

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