Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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…

Death Penalty Movie Week to be held at Tokyo theater

Iwao Hakamada with his sister shortly after his release
Iwao Hakamada with his sister shortly after his release in March 2014
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The annual Death Penalty Movie Week will be held at a Tokyo theater in February, with eight films from home and abroad providing viewers with an opportunity to think about the "right to life."

The event will take place as pro- and anti-death penalty groups have been facing off at symposiums and on other occasions since the Japan Federation of Bar Associations declared in October it would work for the abolition of capital punishment by 2020.

The eight films to be screened include 2005 German movie "Sophie Scholl -- The Final Days," which depicts the anti-Nazi struggle of a student who was executed, and "Freedom Moon," produced in Japan in 2016, that recounts the life of death row inmate Iwao Hakamada.

Hakamada, convicted of a 1966 quadruple murder, was released in 2014 after a court decided to reopen the case.

The film shows how his mental state has deteriorated due to decades-long solitary confinement and the endless fear of execution.

South Korean popular movie "Miracle in Cell No. 7," produced in 2013, will also be screened during the sixth event.

"Murder victims are deprived of their lives unjustifiably, but offenders are also robbed of their 'right to live' under capital punishment," said Masakuni Ota, one of the event organizers. "People seem to accept such circumstances without question, at a time when exclusion and intolerance are prevalent around the world."

During the event from Feb. 18 to 24 at the Eurospace movie theater in Tokyo's Shibuya district, four movies will be shown each day, accompanied by sessions with guest speakers.

The scheduled speakers include actress Kirin Kiki, who played the mother of a death row inmate in a movie based on a true story, and pop singer Tsuyoshi Ujiki, whose father was convicted of war crimes after World War II.

"We welcome both those seeking abolition of the death penalty and those who support or accept capital punishment" so the issue is discussed from various viewpoints, Ota said.

The previous five Death Penalty Movie Week events attracted a total of around 6,000 viewers.

In the four years since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power, 17 inmates have been hanged, with a government survey showing over 80 percent of people in Japan support the death penalty.

On the other hand, Tokyo was urged by the U.N. Human Rights Committee in 2014 to "give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty."

Currently, more than two-thirds of nations have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice.

For further information on the screenings, call Eurospace at 03-3461-0211 or check its website at http://www.eurospace.co.jp/

Source: Mainichi, January 3, 2017

Hakamada: Tapes point to police duress in miscarriage of justice

Iwao Hakamada (left) spent more than three decades on death row.
Iwao Hakamada (left) spent more than three decades on death row.
Police records of interrogations that led to Iwao Hakamada being wrongfully convicted of multiple slayings show that the one-time death row inmate was not allowed to use the restroom as officers relentlessly tried to force him to confess.

Just two days later, Hakamada, now 80, confessed to killing a family of four and setting fire to their home in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1966.

A former professional boxer, Hakamada spent more than three decades on death row. He was released in March 2014 after the Shizuoka District Court ordered a retrial, having concluded that his conviction was likely based on faked evidence.

Defense lawyers pressing for an early retrial presented documents to the Tokyo High Court on Dec. 21, highlighting apparent brazen violations of procedures during Hakamada's interrogation.

The high court is weighing whether to hear Hakamada’s case. Prosecutors have appealed the district court decision.

Hakamada, who is from Hamamatsu in the prefecture, had his death penalty finalized in 1980.

Defense lawyers said 24 tape recordings of Hakamada being questioned were discovered at the police storage room in October 2014.

The tapes recorded interrogations between his arrest on Aug. 18, 1966, and late September that year after he was indicted. The lawyers played the tapes to get a better grasp of how the interrogation was carried out.

They said a session on Sept. 4 was particularly problematic as it appeared Hakamada was deprived of the use of restroom facilities, as he later testified in court.

On the tape, an investigator trying to get him to confess, says, “It must be the case.”

After more exchanges with the investigator, Hakamada says, “I would like to use the bathroom.”

The investigator responds, “Why don’t you reply (to my question) before doing so?”

Lawyers said the recording makes clear that Hakamada had to urinate inside the interrogation room.

“Get a lavatory pan. Let him urinate here,” the interrogator is heard saying.

During his trial at the Shizuoka District Court in December 1967, Hakamada testified that he was forced to urinate in the interrogation room.

“I was not permitted to go to restroom on many occasions,” he said. “I was not permitted to do it properly.”

The interrogator in question denied Hakamada’s account when he appeared in court as a witness in 1968.

“There never was such a thing,” he said.

The defense team also said that among the tapes were recordings of conversations between Hakamada and his lawyers, suggesting that the police eavesdropped on them.

The lawyers argued that the investigators violated various laws in the course of establishing the case against Hakamada and during his trial. This, they said, was further ammunition for an early retrial.

Forcing a suspect to urinate in the interrogation room constituted assault and cruelty by special pubic officers, and eavesdropping and recording interviews between defense lawyers and a client constituted an act of malpractice, they noted.

They also noted that lying in court constitutes perjury.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun, December 22, 2016

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