Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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…

Execution Looms for Iranian Child Bride

Zeinab Sokian
Zeinab Sokian
On September 30, a young woman delivered a stillborn child in Euromieh central prison, in northern Iran. That would be tragic for any mother, but in Zeinab Sokian's case, the tragedy is runs even deeper: the delivery brings her one step closer to the gallows.

Zeinab, who was sentenced to death for allegedly murdering her husband in 2012, when she was 17, was informed by authorities this week her execution could take place in the coming weeks. (Zeinab had married a fellow prisoner who fathered the child.)

Iranian law punishes intentional murder with death but prohibits the execution of a pregnant woman. Zeinab, who is from a small village in northern Iran, was just 15 at the time of 1st marriage. During her trial the court discounted Zeinab's claims that her husband frequently beat and abused her, a source told Human Rights Watch.

Under the Iranian Civil Code, girls can marry at 13 and boys at 15. International human rights standards recommend 18 as the minimum age for marriage. Those who marry young face a higher risk of physical and sexual abuse than women who marry at 18 or later, studies show.

As a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran is obligated to outlaw use of the death penalty on persons who were under age 18 at the time they committed a capital offense.

According to Amnesty International, Iran has nevertheless executed at least 1 person convicted for an offense when they were a child in 2016, and has at least 49 other child offenders on death row.

Other groups have documented cases in recent years where child defendants did not have adequate access to lawyers.

Legal reforms in Iran that went into force in 2013 give judges discretion to spare children the death penalty if they did not understand the nature of the crime for which they were convicted.

It also entitles those sentenced to death prior to the 2013 reforms to a new trial, but places the onus on them to request it - something that those from marginalized backgrounds may be ill-equipped to do.

The 2013 reforms aimed to prevent wrongful conviction of children for capital offenses. If the Iranian government is serious about this goal, it should at a minimum grant everyone facing the death penalty for alleged offenses committed as children a new trial that conforms to international human rights standards. This includes Zeinab, an alleged victim of domestic violence, who may otherwise imminently face the gallows.

Source: Human Rights Watch, October 6, 2016

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