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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…

Texas: Judge rules Battaglia mentally fit for execution

John Battaglia
John Battaglia
A Dallas County judge ruled Friday that death row inmate John Battaglia is mentally fit to be executed for killing his two daughters.

His execution date will remain set for Dec. 7.

State District Judge Robert Burns said that Battaglia, who shot his daughters in an act of revenge against his ex-wife in 2001, has enough understanding of his case and his execution to remain on death row.

A defendant is considered competent for execution under Texas law if he understands why he's been sentenced to die and that his execution is imminent.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that the 61-year-old former accountant and Marine has a factual understanding of his conviction and execution date, but there had been debate over whether he has a "rational understanding" of it all.

Psychologists testified that Battaglia suffers from a delusional disorder that makes him believe he did not kill his children, but Burns questioned whether he has developed this delusion as a coping mechanism.

In 2001, Battaglia made national headlines when he murdered his daughters, 9-year-old Faith and 6-year-old Liberty. He shot them inside his Deep Ellum loft while their mother listened helplessly on the phone.

"No, Daddy! Don't do it!" Faith pleaded, seconds before he pulled the trigger.

After he killed them, he had two roses tattooed on his arm — in memory, he said, of his girls — and left a chilling message on the family's answering machine.

"Goodnight, my little babies," he said in the message. "I hope you are resting in a different place. I love you."

Three of the four psychologists who evaluated Battaglia testified that he is not fit to be executed, primarily because his delusions prevent him from having a rational understanding of his case. Battaglia also passed psychological tests to determine if he was faking it, according to testimony.

The fourth psychologist, Dr. James Womack, didn't buy that Battaglia was delusional. He said someone suffering from delusions would stick to his irrational story, no matter what.

Womack said Battaglia denied killing Faith and Liberty but then said he might have been drugged, offering an explanation for why he was at the crime scene.

Defense attorney Michael Mowla noted that the threshold for incompetency is 50-50, which meant it was likely that Battaglia would not be found mentally fit considering the evidence presented from three out of the four psychologists.

But the judge agreed with Womack that Battaglia told different versions of his story and that it is clear he understands the reason for his execution.

Prosecutor Christine Womble painted a picture of Battaglia as an intelligent man who researched case law in the prison library so that he could portray himself as incompetent. She cited a phone call with his father, in which Battaglia said "this is a damn chess game."

"Mr. Battaglia knows what he's doing," she said.

Source: Dallas News, Claire Ballor Sarah Mervosh, November 18, 2016

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