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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…

Concern around secret sentencing to death of Gaza woman

Execution of a convicted murderer in Gaza City on October 2, 2013
Execution of a convicted murderer in Gaza City on October 2, 2013
The case of the 1st Palestinian woman to be sentenced to death in more than 20 years has raised concerns among human right activists in Gaza.

The 26-year-old woman, identified only as Nahia A, was convicted of killing her husband but her trial was held in secret and even her family has distanced themselves publicly from the case.

"They were afraid of revenge from the husband's family," said Zeinab Al Ghounimi of the Centre for Women's Legal Research and Consulting, which stepped in to help after Nahia A's family declined even to provide her with legal representation.

Her lawyer, Bakr Torkmani, said the woman is the mother of a young boy and had been married against her will. She lived in complete destitution in Khan Yunis, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, and was repeatedly beaten by her husband.

Her husband's family has refused to let her see her son since she has been in jail. "I hope public opinion and media reports will have an impact on the judges after the haste they showed in handing out this death sentence," said Mr Torkmani.

According to the Gaza's attorney general Ismail Jaber, the woman stabbed her husband in the back several times when he stopped to answer a call of nature while they were out in their donkey cart. She had allegedly purchased the knife some days earlier. The authorities say she confessed after her arrest on January 31 and other testimony showed the killing was premeditated. She was convicted and sentenced on October 5 after a trial held behind closed doors.

"Once all procedural steps have been completed, we will sign off on the implementation of the sentence," said Mr Jaber.

Nahia A is the 1st woman to be sentenced to death in the Palestinian Territories since 1994, and her case highlights concerns over the continued use of the death penalty, especially in the Gaza Strip. Unlike the West Bank, Palestine's coastal enclave is ruled by the strict Islamist movement, Hamas. It has also endured a 10-year blockade and 3 wars with Israel since 2008.

Under Palestinian law, murder, drug-trafficking and collaborating with Israel are all punishable by death. There have been 33 executions in Gaza since 1994 but since Hamas took power there in 2007, 96 people have been sentenced to death, mostly for spying for Israel. 21 death sentences have been handed out this year alone.

By contrast, in the West Bank, which is ruled by the Fatah-party-dominated Palestinian Authority, there have been only 2 executions since 1994 and none since 2002.

Mr Jaber said the death penalty was necessary to deter revenge attacks and also because the families of victims demanded it.

"The aim is not to increase criminality," he said. "What we want is to reduce it and eliminate it." The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights intends to appeal against Nahia A's sentence. In the meantime, she remains behind bars in Gaza City.

"Palestinian law does not make a distinction between criminals according to their sex," said Mr Jaber.

Source: The National, December 14, 2016

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