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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…

Cuba: Capital Punishment in a Dictatorship

Fidel Castro, Cuba's lifelong dictator, dies at 90.
Fidel Castro, Cuba's lifelong dictator, dies at 90.
In April 2013, after ten consecutive years without carrying out executions, Cuba became a “de facto abolitionist” country.

The Penal Code presently in force provides for the death penalty for 112 offences, 33 of which are common crimes.

Offences punishable by death include: crimes against external State security; crimes against internal State security; crimes against peace and international law; acts against State security (like the violation of Cuban territory by participating as a member of the crew or travelling on board a ship or plane); crimes against the normal development of sexual relations and against the family, infancy and youth (rape when the victim is under 12 years of age or serious injury or illness results; pederasty with violence when the victim is under 14 years of age or serious injury or illness results).

A February 1999 reform of the penal code expanded the application of the death penalty to crimes of drug trafficking with aggravating circumstances, violent assault and corruption of minors.

On December 20, 2001 Cuban lawmakers unanimously approved an expanded antiterrorism law that reaffirmed the use of the death penalty for the most extreme acts of terror. The new law toughens and expands Cuba's previous terrorism law, listed as a crime against the state in the nation's penal code.

The life sentence was adopted in the February 1999 reform of the Code. Under Cuban law, people under 20 and pregnant women cannot be sentenced to death. Those condemned to death may appeal to the Supreme Court. If the ruling is upheld, it must be ratified by the Council of State (the highest authority of the country led by Raul Castro), to which is assigned the last word.

On 28 April 2008, new Cuban President Raul Castro had announced that all death sentences had been commuted to prison terms of 30 years, with the exception of three people charged with terrorism, whose cases were still on appeal. “This does not mean we have eliminated the death penalty from the penal code,” Raul Castro said.

On 4 December 2010, the Supreme Tribunal commuted the death sentence of Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, a Salvadoran man convicted of killing an Italian tourist during a series of Havana hotel bombings in 1997 and 1998. On 7 December, the Supreme Tribunal commuted the death sentence of another Salvadoran man convicted of plotting the 1997-1998 hotel bombing spree. Finally, on 28 December, the Supreme Tribunal commuted the death sentence of Humberto Eladio Real, an anti-Castro activist who was the last death row inmate on the island. Real had been convicted in the 1990s on murder and “acts against State security.”

However, since the decision to commute all death sentences in April 2008 and the last three inmates on death row saw their sentences commuted in December 2010, no death sentences have been handed down by the courts and no new executions have been carried out in Cuba.

The Cuban Government has never released statistics on its prison population, convicts condemned to death or the number of executions.

According to teacher Armando Lago, a consultant to the Stanford Research Institute, 5,621 executions have taken place on the island, the majority of them for politically related crimes. The death penalty was common in the 1960s and 1970s, but in more recent years, the death penalty, carried out by firing squad, has been reserved for cases like terrorism, armed rebellion or particularly gruesome killings or serial murders.

The last executions were held on 11 April 2003, when Cuba put to death Enrique Copello Castillo, Barbaro Leodan Sevillan Garcia and Jorge Luis Martinez Isaac, three men found guilty of hijacking a passenger ferry with the intent of sailing it to Florida. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the summary nature of the trial and defined the executions as an ‘arbitrary privation of human life’.

On 28 February 2008, Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, which Fidel Castro had refused to sign. The move by the communist government came just days after Castro’s younger brother Raul was confirmed as his successor. 

A statement that Cuba submitted when it signed the treaty said that its constitution and laws “guarantee the effective realization and protection of these rights for all Cubans,” but also stressed that the government would register “reservations or interpretative declarations it considers relevant.” 

Felipe Pérez Roque, Cuban Foreign Minister, said, “This signing formalizes and reaffirms the rights protected by the agreement, which my Country has systematically been upholding since the triumph of the revolution.”

On 18 December 2014, Cuba abstained from the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.

BACKGROUND:


Government: Communist state
State of civil and political rights: Not free
Constitution: 24 February 1976; amended July 1992 and June 2002
Legal System: based on Spanish and American law, with large elements of Communist legal theory
Legislative System: unicameral National Assembly of People's Power (Asemblea Nacional del Poder Popular)
Judicial System: People's Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo Popular), president, vice president, and other judges are elected by the National Assembly
Religion: Catholic majority

Method of execution: shooting
Date of last execution: 11-4-2003
Prisoners on death row: 0 (Sources: Afp, 28/12/2010)

International Treaties on the Death Penalty and Human Rights:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed only)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Source: Hands Off Cain

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