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…

New Mexico House Approves Reinstatement Of The Death Penalty

The New Mexico House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that would reinstate the death penalty for select crimes Thursday morning strictly along party lines.

The measure passed the House with 36 votes in favor, and 30 opposed. The bill heads to the state Senate next, but reports indicate the Senate will not take up the measure this session.

Republican Rep. Monica Youngblood sponsored the bill, which sought to overturn the 2009 that repealed the state’s death penalty. Youngblood attempted to reassure Democrats that the bill would only apply, “When a child is murdered, when a law enforcement officer is murdered or a corrections officer is murdered.”

Democrats, let by Gail Chasey assert that the bill is too much, and that the risk of potentially executing an innocent prisoner is too great to allow the policy. “I think the risk of a wrongful execution, perhaps it is not huge, it but it is real and it needs to be addressed,” Democratic House Minority Leader Brian Egolf said during open remarks.

We would never execute an innocent person,” Youngblood responded.

Democrats also took issue with the fact that House Republicans sponsored the bill through the Appropriations committee instead of the traditional Judiciary committee for this type of legislation.

“Running these bills through the Appropriations committee was inappropriate,” Egolf said, adding that the Appropriations committee doesn’t have legal counsel to consult on such matters.

Youngblood defended such attacks by adding that the language for much of the bill is derived from the bill that stood for 30 years before it was repealed.

New Mexico is one of 20 states that repealed their death penalty, including the state of Delaware, who repealed their death penalty earlier this year. The list includes Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia.

Source: The Daily Caller, Phillip Stucky, October 6, 2016

New Mexico House approves death penalty overnight

The state House of Representatives voted 36-30 on party lines early Thursday to reinstate the death penalty, passing the special legislative session’s most controversial bill following an hours-long debate that ended just before 6 a.m.

Republican-sponsored House Bill 7 would allow for the death penalty in cases involving the murder of a child or law enforcement officer. But it still requires approval from the Democrat-controlled Senate, where opposition is likely. It’s unclear whether the Senate will even take up the bill after it reconvenes Thursday.

The House’s agenda for Wednesday did not include any debate on House Bill 7. Then House Republicans proposed taking up the bill after midnight, having passed a total of two pieces of legislation since the morning.

Democrats protested, accusing Republicans of attempting to cram the legislation through the House under the cover of darkness, when the chamber’s gallery was virtually empty and newspaper deadlines had expired and television newscasts had long since ended.

“This is the opposite of openness and transparency,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, after telling legislators: “If you’re proud of what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it in secret.”

Democrats dragged out debate over whether to take up the bill for about two hours, characterizing the Republican maneuver as chicanery.

House members ultimately voted 35-32 along party lines to consider the bill in the early-morning hours, leading to another three hours of debate.

The day leading up to discussion of the bill was fraught with political tension. As the House weighed legislation to slash government spending, including a Republican proposal to cut deeper into funds for higher education, the party’s caucus met several times for meetings behind closed doors. One such meeting stretched nearly four hours.

As lawmakers slept in their chairs and in a lounge off the House floor, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, sparred with Democrats over issues ranging from the cost of capital punishment to the drugs that would be used in executions.

The Legislature and then-Gov. Bill Richardson repealed the death penalty in 2009, one of several states to either abolish or place a moratorium on capital punishment in recent years.

Youngblood invoked children and law enforcement officers killed around New Mexico this year as reason to reinstate capital punishment, at least in a narrow set of cases.

“This bill is narrow. This bill only addresses the most heinous criminals — the ones who murder our children, our police officers and corrections officers,” Youngblood said.

But another section of the bill would allow judges to sentence juveniles to life without parole, an option banned in nearly 20 states and virtually every country, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization advocating criminal justice report.

Youngblood is cosponsoring the bill with Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, and both represent districts shaken by recent high-profile killings. In Youngblood’s Albuquerque district, police say 10-year-old Victoria Martens was drugged, sexually assaulted and dismembered this summer. In Hatch, a fugitive is accused of fatally shooting a police officer.

But Democrats accused Republicans of pushing the bill as an election year gambit.

“New Mexico is trying to reach back into the past for failed policies that did nothing to prevent crime just to say, ‘we did it.’ To say, ‘vote for me,’” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque.

Democrats emphasized that even if the death-penalty bill becomes law, it would not apply retroactively in the cases mentioned by Youngblood, such as the killing of Victoria Martens.

Democrats also argued the state cannot afford the cost of prosecuting death-penalty cases. A financial analysis by legislative staffers said the bill would cost up to $1.2 million in the current fiscal year that ends in June 2017 and up to $2.4 million the following year. Youngblood has maintained reinstating the death penalty would not be more expensive than other capital cases in which a life sentence is at stake. But Democrats countered legal fees in death-penalty prosecutions would prove costlier than any other type case.

New Mexico courts handed down 15 death sentences during the three decades before the repeal of capital punishment. Only one defendant was put to death. Four others were exonerated. Two men are still awaiting execution for convictions predating 2009.

Youngblood said her bill largely mirrors the death penalty statute repealed in 2009, maintaining it had been tried and tested in the courts. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee on Monday approved a dozen changes to the bill, replacing the term “mentally retarded” with “intellectual disability,” for example. The amendment also allowed the state to change the drugs used for lethal injection, which could help skirt shortages as manufacturers face mounting pressure not to sell drugs for executions.

Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, Andrew Oxford, October 6, 2016

Death penalty bill fails to clear NM Senate

The New Mexico Legislature has adjourned from a special legislative session without considering a measure to reinstate the death penalty and other criminal justice initiatives backed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

The Democrat-led Senate adjourned Thursday without taking up stricter sentencing provisions approved by the House or Representatives.

New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009. Martinez and allies in Legislature have pushed for stricter criminal sentencing as a response to the recent killing of 2 police officers and the August sexual assault, killing and mutilation of 10-year-old Victoria Martens in Albuquerque.

Source: Washington Times, October 6, 2016

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