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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

No firing squad for Mississippi's death row inmates

Mississippi lawmakers have shot down the firing squad as a means of execution for death row inmates.

The change, by a state Senate committee, came after the lower chamber passed a proposal Feb. 8 that would have allowed death by nitrogen gas chamber, firing squad and electrocution as alternatives to the current method of lethal injection. The state legislature proposed the other options in case others are deemed unconstitutional or become unavailable.

"States have been having difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs within the United States primarily because the American pharmaceutical manufacturers have uniformly said they don't want their medicines used in killing prisoners," said Robert Dunham, Director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The options do not permit condemned prisoners to choose their execution method. The alternative methods are available only if the lethal injection is not available with gas chamber being the 2nd option and electrocution the last.

According to Dunham, other states have also turned to alternative ways to carry out death sentences. He notes Utah and Oklahoma have added death by firing squad as an alternate to lethal injection and Tennessee has authorized the use of the electric chair. Death by firing squad in Utah is only available to those sentenced to death prior to 2004. In all 31 states that allow the death penalty, the primary method for executions is lethal injection.

Dunham said he expects legal challenges to the most recent change in the proposed bill. The state currently faces legal challenges surrounding the drugs it uses for lethal injection executions. Opponents say the use of the drugs violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Magnolia State previously used the electric chair and gas chamber to execute violent criminals. Lethal injection became the state's sole means of execution in March of 1998, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Mississippi's most recent execution was carried out in 2012 and there are currently 47 people on death row in the state.

The bill will now move to the full state senate for consideration and will have to be sent back the house for approval of the amended changes before being passed on to the governor.

Source: Associated Press, February 25, 2017

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