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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…

Alabama and Georgia dueling for death penalty capital

In the midst of celebrations, good cheer, and that warm charity of spirit only the holidays bring, oft expressed as "peace on earth and goodwill towards all," Georgia and Alabama are instead ritualizing killing.

If it feels like I just wrote a column about Georgia's shameful record on executions, it's because I did. 3 weeks ago.

Observing that Georgia had performed a record 8 executions in 2016, more than any other state, and more in any year in Georgia since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, I wrote: "Georgia is now the new, undisputed champion killer of the condemned."

Unsatisfied and lusting for still more violence, vengeance, and blood, Georgia is primed to add to their already gruesome gurney-tally tomorrow, December 6.

That's when stern-faced, tight-lipped lawmen (and possibly law-women) will, for extra pay, take a break from the Christian spirit and normal human rhythms of work, football, prayer, and time spent with family and friends, to frogmarch 50-year-old William Sallie - who has already spent more than 1/2 his life imprisoned - to his death.

Sticking to tradition like it was hanging mistletoe, Georgia's Department of Corrections has already gleefully issued, "Sallie's Last Meal Advisory," which all good people of conscience will immediately recognize as a fiendish and loutish display that debases the dignity of human life.

Glomming on to this gross ghoulishness for the sake of clicks is Rhonda Cook, who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; the headline of Ms. Cook's recent piece peevishly opines, "[m]urderer requests junk food for his last meal."

Putting aside Mr. Sallie's gastronomic predilections, Andrew Cohen, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, explained at the end of last week in "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," why Sallie's execution should horrify any person who believes in basic due process of law.

Meanwhile, as competitive with Georgia in killing its citizens as it is in college football, correctional officials at that hell on earth Holman Prison in neighboring Alabama are sipping on egg nog and practicing up how to correctly spell, say, and explain that thick tongue-twister of a word, "Lagophthalmos."

No, dear reader, I know what you're thinking and don't be ashamed, I was confused at first too - Lagophthalmos is not the name of one of Rudolph's long-lost reindeer friends.

Rather, Lagophthalmos is the cockamamie excuse Alabama's Department of Corrections (ADOC) and Attorney General's Office are rallying around to disclaim why Alabama's last execution may have burned a man, death row inmate Christopher Brooks, alive; this is a claim federal public defenders made and supported with affidavits from a medical expert and a federal investigator that should deeply disconcert, if not demoralize, anyone who believes medieval torture has no place in 21st century America; a claim that still has not been aired in a court of law.

And so, because everyone knows clemency in Alabama is a farce, unless the Supreme Court of the United States or the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals grants a stay of execution, Lagophthalmos and its dubious merits for why Christopher Brooks' eye inexplicably popped open as he lay on that ghastly gurney in January, are certain to be on the mind of everyone invited by ADOC to witness Smith's execution this Thursday.

Just how many eyeballs will be eyeballing Smith for signs he is being burned alive on a chemical stake - a stake thrusting right through the feckless heart of the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment?

Let's just say it'll be about the same as the number of ornaments weighing down the gentle blue-green boughs on a Christmas tree.

Festive, isn't it?

Source: The Hill, Opinion, Stephen Cooper, December 5, 2016. Mr. Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015.

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