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…

Nebraska Catholic church affirms position on death penalty

Nebraska Catholic church affirms position on death penalty
Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, left, and Sister Jeanne O'Rourke, of Mercy High School in Omaha speak about why Nebraska should not have a death penalty.

Priest, nuns and Catholic leaders joined Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), Thursday at a press conference to affirm the church's position on the death penalty.

The Catholic Church and Nebraska Bishops oppose the death penalty because they say it is not necessary to protect society. The press conference was the kick off of the church's advocacy to its 375,000 Catholics in more than 350 Nebraska parishes encouraging Catholics to be informed about the death penalty and be involved in the political process.

"We urge Catholics and all people of good will to vote to retain the repeal of the death penalty on Referendum Measure 426," Venzor said.

Nebraskans will vote on Nov. 8 whether to retain the law prohibiting the death penalty in Nebraska or to reinstate the possible use of the death penalty in the sentencing phase of trials. The message the NCC is sharing is one of mercy.

"I stand here today, urging everyone to recognize that what human life God creates, we must not destroy; that even if one feels that someone is deserving of death, we as a people are above dealing them death," said father Doug Dietrich, pastor at Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Lincoln.

Dietrich said Nebraska does not need the death penalty.

"We have other means available to ensure our safety, means which also offer the convict the chance of rehabilitation and conversion," he said. "Along with my brother priests throughout Nebraska, we are taking a principled pro-life stance and proclaiming we do not need the death penalty in Nebraska."

Venzor said Nebraska's bishops are "deeply disturbed" that 156 people have been taken off death row since 1976, many as a result of DNA evidence proving their innocence.

"Even here in Nebraska, the death penalty can sometimes be misused, as we have witnessed with the 'Beatrice 6' who were initially threatened with the death penalty and have since been released from prison on account of DNA evidence," Venzor said.

Bishops are also concerned that racial minorities and the poor are disproportionately sentenced to death, which can occur as the result of racial bias or inadequate defense, Venzor said.

"This raises serious concerns about the just use of the death penalty," he said. "Ultimately, the bishops are deeply bothered by a justice system in which the innocent might be executed."

Venzor said families of victims also suffer from the "seemingly endless appeals process" associated with the death penalty.

"The pain experienced by these families is real and agonizing as the torturous experience of their loved ones' brutal death is relived," he said.

The church is also concerned that the death penalty is used as vengeance and not justice, and that it is too costly for Nebraska taxpayers.

"These are critical tax dollars that can be used to more adequately support our prisons and corrections staff, provide assistance to families of victims, or promote other justice efforts," Venzor said. "Even if the exact cost may be disputed, whether the cost is millions or mere cents, there can be no real price placed on the value of human life."

Sister Jeanne O'Rourke, spiritual adviser at Omaha's Mercy High School, said the Catholic Church, the popes, Nebraska bishops, the NCC and religious men and women have all concluded the death penalty is not necessary.

"Even in Nebraska, the death penalty risks executing innocent lives," she said. "1 innocent person executed is too many."

Dietrich encouraged Nebraskans to consider how they will vote. He said we must decide if we are a state that, "reserves the right to execute our fellow citizens, even when, because of human weakness and sinfulness, we cannot be 100 % guaranteed of their guilt or of their capacity to be culpable of their crimes, or are we a state that will announce that we stand against the taking of human life, by ourselves following our own precept, and refusing to be the ones who bring about the death of another."

O'Rourke said the death penalty isn't merciful because it views a person as not deserving God's gift of life.

"The death penalty isn't merciful because when the state kills in our name, we have blood on our hands," she said. "As Pope Francis has professed, we are a Church of mercy. The death penalty in Nebraska is incompatible with mercy."

Source: Scottsbluff Star Herald, September 30, 2016

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