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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…

US Supreme Court won't hear Arizona death sentence case

Arizona's death house holding cell
Arizona's death house holding cell
The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear Arizona's appeal of a lower court ruling that overturned a convicted murderer's death sentence has opened the door for about 25 death row inmates to challenge their sentences.

The justices on Monday let stand the ruling that said Arizona unconstitutionally excluded evidence about James McKinney's troubled childhood and post-traumatic stress disorder that might have led to a lesser punishment. McKinney was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1993.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last December that Arizona's causal nexus rule violated the Constitution. The rule required any mitigating evidence, such as mental illness or post-traumatic stress disorder, to be directly tied to the crime committed to be relevant in sentencing.

In the case of McKinney, that means a judge could have granted some leniency - and perhaps avoided the death penalty - had he been able to consider McKinney's troubled past and abuse as a child. But McKinney's abuse wasn't directly correlated to the double murders he committed, so it wasn't admissible as a mitigating factor in court. McKinney was sentenced to death in 1993, and the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the sentence 3 years later.

The causal nexus rule was applied in Arizona for about 15 years, but it hasn't been used since 2005.

McKinney's sentencing case will go back to state court within 90 to 120 days, Arizona Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Mia Garcia said. His conviction stands.

Only a jury could re-sentence McKinney to death because Arizona can no longer allow judges to impose death sentences following a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. McKinney was originally sentenced to death by a judge.

Dale Baich, federal public defender in Arizona, says up to 25 death sentences could also be affected. Baich said it will take time for federal courts to sort out those cases and determine which ones will go back for new sentencing hearings.

Ivan Mathew, an attorney for McKinney, declined to comment on the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the state's appeal, but he said he would be conveying the decision to his client. He said during arguments in the appeals court that the causal nexus rule amounted to a filter or screen that would not allow the full information to be meaningfully considered.

Source: The Journal Times, October 4, 2016

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