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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…

Australian government urged to strengthen AFP policy to prevent death penalty cases

Andrew Chan (left) and Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan Prison's art studio
Andrew Chan (left) and Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan Prison's art studio
The Turnbull government has been urged to strengthen Australian Federal Police policy to prevent citizens being exposed to the death penalty overseas, as Australia marks 50 years since the last execution in the country.

A joint parliamentary committee recommended in May last year that AFP guidelines be amended to include a "stronger focus" on preventing citizens and non-citizens being exposed to the risk of the death penalty in countries including Indonesia and the United States.

On the 50th anniversary of the hanging of Ronald Ryan, who was convicted of shooting a prison officer and became the last man executed in Australia, the Law Council of Australia will call on the government on Friday to adopt the recommendations.

Legal experts have warned existing AFP guidelines, introduced after Bali Nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were sentenced to death in Indonesia, are not strong enough to prevent future executions.

A tip-off from the AFP to the Indonesian National Police led to the Bali Nine's arrest.

Australia opposes the death penalty but current guidelines do not prevent the AFP sharing information with international law enforcement agencies where there is a risk the death penalty may be applied.

The AFP is simply required to "consider" a range of factors in such cases, if it is aware providing the information is "likely to result" in the prosecution of a specific person for an offence carrying the death penalty.

Those factors include the seriousness of the suspected crime and Australia's interest in promoting and securing co-operation from overseas agencies in tackling crime.
The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, chaired by former Liberal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, recommended the guidelines be overhauled so the primary aim is to prevent people from Australia or elsewhere being exposed to arrest or charge for crimes likely to attract the death penalty.

The guidelines should also include "a requirement that the AFP seek assurances from foreign law enforcement bodies that the death penalty will not be sought or applied if information is provided", the committee said.

Law Council of Australia president Fiona McLeod, SC, said the guidelines were unclear and it was up to an individual AFP officer's judgment as to "how the various factors are weighted".

"This is particularly unfair to the AFP officer – who is forced to carry the heavy weight of responsibility on their own judgment and conscience," Ms McLeod said.

She said the federal government had been an "outstanding advocate" against the death penalty and should "continue to take the lead".

The death penalty was abolished for Commonwealth offences in Australia in 1973. NSW, which lagged the other states, did not abolish capital punishment until 1985.

Source: smh.com.au, Michaela Whitbourn, Feb. 3, 2017

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