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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…

Attorneys for Dylann Roof file motion for new federal trial, attempt to throw out death penalty

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Attorneys for convicted Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof took aim at his death penalty in a motion for a new federal trial.

With a looming deadline, attorneys David Bruck, Kimberly Stevens and Emily Paavola filed the motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Charleston. It seeks to throw out Roof's death sentence in favor of life in prison without the possibility of release by targeting the charges eligible for capital punishment. 

Of Roof's 33 federal counts, 18 were eligible for the death penalty. He had previously offered to plead guilty in return for a life sentence. 

The attorneys raised two issues in the filing.

First, they argued that Roof's actions didn't constitute interstate commerce because the attack was planned and executed completely within South Carolina.

The attorneys also argued that two charges — hate crime and obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious belief — were not "crimes of violence" because "they do not require the use or threat of use of 'violent physical force.'"

"As we discussed in our motion to dismiss, because both offenses may be committed in ways that do not involve the use or threat of violent force they ... cannot support (death penalty) convictions," the document said.

Roof, a 22-year-old white supremacist, was sentenced to death in January for the June 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME that killed nine worshippers.

It could take years, however, for the death sentence to be carried out between complex and lengthy federal appeals process and a shortage of lethal drugs used in executions.

Legal proceedings, such as Friday's motion, could take months to be sorted out, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. 

The case could later move to the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where it could take months or even a year to reach oral arguments, followed by several more years of potential additional legal wrangling, Dunham said.

Roof faces another potential death sentence in his state trial, which does not yet have a start date. 

Source: The Post and Courier, Gregory Yee, February 10, 2017
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