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…

SCOTUS rejects Alabama Death Row inmate's appeal for 1987 Cullman motel clerk slaying

Doyle Hamm
The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it won't review the appeal of Alabama death row inmate Doyle Hamm, who was convicted in the 1987 slaying of a motel clerk during a robbery.

Hamm was sentenced to death for his conviction in the shooting death of Patrick Cunningham during the robbery on Jan. 24, 1987.

After his trial, the jury recommended on September 28, 1987, by a vote of 11 to 1, that Hamm be sentenced to death. The judge followed the recommendation and imposed the death penalty.

The New Yorker magazine recently published a story on Hamm's case and the inmate's lawyer of nearly three decades, Bernard Harcourt, who is now a professor at Columbia Law School in New York.

Efforts to reach Harcourt after Monday's ruling by SCOTUS were unsuccessful.

Harcourt found in the early 1990s that a 1977 robbery from Tennessee - which Hamm denied committing - was used to convince jurors to sentence Hamm to the death penalty, The New Yorker reported. The victim in that Tennessee crime said later there was no robbery, the magazine reported.

In another twist, when a state judge ruled against Hamm in an 89-page opinion, the opinion appeared to have been written by the Alabama Attorney General's Office, the magazine stated. The issue had made the news around that time.

"The judge's opinion was identical to a document submitted to the court 1 business day earlier by the Attorney General's office. They even shared a title: "Proposed Memorandum Opinion" - apparently, the judge had not even removed the word "Proposed" before signing it," The New Yorker story stated.

An earlier federal appellate court opinion laid out the following facts of the crime and case:

"At approximately 10:30 p.m., Kathy Flanagan stopped at the motel (the Anderson Motel in Cullman) to rent a room for the night. While Flanagan was registering, a small-framed white male entered the motel to ask about a room.

Cunningham informed the male that he needed a reservation, and the male left. Moments later, the 1st male returned accompanied by a 2nd male wearing blue jeans and a faded green army jacket. Cunningham told Flanagan that 'it 'looks like there is going to be trouble' and apparently pointed Flanagan in the direction of a room, but Flanagan returned to her car," according to the court opinion. From her car, Flanagan saw the individual in the green jacket point a revolver at the registration desk but could not see behind the desk; she also saw the 1st male standing by the door and noticed a banged-up 1970s model car in the parking lot, with its engine running, and possibly a 3rd individual inside. Flanagan left the scene, drove to a nearby telephone, and called police to report a possible robbery.

Upon arriving at the motel, police discovered Cunningham's body on the floor behind the front desk. Cunningham had been killed by a single shot to the head from a .38-caliber pistol. The evidence further established that he had been shot in the temple from a distance of approximately 18 inches while he was lying on the floor.

Cunningham's wallet, containing approximately $60 was missing, as was approximately $350 from the motel's cash drawer.

A Cullman police officer learned that 2 men matching the descriptions given by Flanagan were also wanted for a robbery-murder that had taken place in Mississippi that same day. A nickel-plated .38-caliber revolver had been taken during that robbery."

On January 25, the same officer spoke with Douglas Roden, who had been stopped while driving a car matching the description given by Flanagan. Roden claimed that he and his sister-in-law, Regina Roden, had been kidnapped by Hamm and 2 others. Roden further stated that he and Regina had been held captive in a trailer home during the time of the motel robbery while Hamm and another individual left with the car. In addition, Roden asserted that he and Regina had escaped the trailer that morning and had taken the car. Roden directed police to the trailer. At some point, the police learned that the trailer was owned by Hamm's nephew.

Later that day, a search warrant was obtained for the trailer and a fugitive-from-justice warrant was obtained for Hamm for a robbery in Mississippi. Id. During the search of the trailer, authorities discovered a nickel-plated .38-caliber pistol, a green army jacket, and several rounds of .38-caliber ammunition, including some in the pocket of the jacket.

Hamm was arrested and booked on the fugitive warrant. He initially denied any involvement in the murder and robbery at the Anderson's Motel, and Flanagan failed to identify Hamm in a lineup. Nevertheless, Hamm was placed under arrest for the motel robbery. Id. The next day, Hamm gave a statement to the police that was recorded, in which he admitted his initial statements were false and he confessed to the robbery and murder of Cunningham.

Subsequently, it was discovered that the Rodens had lied in their initial statements. They had not been kidnapped and, in fact, Douglas and Regina were the 2 individuals present with Hamm at the Anderson's Motel during the robbery and murder; Douglas was the 1st male individual to enter the motel. The Rodens entered into agreements with the state where, in exchange for testimony against Hamm, they would receive lesser charges. Douglas agreed to plead guilty to murder and received a life sentence; Regina pled guilty to robbery and hindering prosecution."

Source: al.com, October 4, 2016

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