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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…

Supreme Court blocks death sentence over racial bias

The Supreme Court blocked the execution of a Texas murderer Wednesday because of racially discriminatory testimony presented by his own defense team.

The 6-2 ruling was the second in the court's new term to overturn a death sentence, and it could be a harbinger of things to come. The justices heard another death penalty case from Texas in November that hinges on a prisoner's intellectual disability.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the ruling in favor of Duane Buck, who was sentenced to death following the testimony of a defense witness in 1996 who said he would be more dangerous in the future because he is black.

The testimony "said, in effect, that the color of Buck’s skin made him more deserving of execution," Roberts wrote. "No competent defense attorney would introduce such evidence about his own client."

The effect of that testimony, Roberts said, "cannot be dismissed as de minimis. Buck has demonstrated prejudice."

Texas had agreed several years after Buck's sentencing to reconsider the sentences of seven prisoners following similar testimony, but they excluded Buck from the list because the prosecution was not to blame. But Roberts said such testimony from the defense is even worse.

"Buck may have been sentenced to death in part because of his race," the chief justice said. "As an initial matter, this is a disturbing departure from a basic premise of our criminal justice system: Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are."

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Thomas wrote that the racial testimony was secondary to "the heinousness off petitioner's crime and his complete lack of remorse" for having shot and killed a former girlfriend.

At oral argument in October, it was clear a majority of justices would not let the death sentence stand. Even Alito, a former prosecutor known for being tough on crime, said "what occurred at the penalty phase of this trial is indefensible."

Still, several justices were concerned that Buck's challenge was not raised in time, and that a ruling in his favor could lead to a flood of other challenges from prisoners whose convictions have been considered final. Roberts sought to avoid that outcome by writing a decision tied directly to the facts in Buck's case.

Source: USA Today, February 22, 2017


50-year-old man sentenced to death for the 1987 murder of a 75-year-old woman in Euclid


A 50-year-old man has been sentenced to death for the murder of a 75-year-old woman in Euclid.

According to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Andre Jackson was convicted of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and sentenced to death for the murder of Emily Zak.

On June 25, 1987 Jackson murdered Zak in a laundromat in Euclid where she worked. Jackson kicked, punched and stomped Zak to death, he then pushed her head in a toilet.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor said Jackson stole the cash register and register keys.

Jackson has filed a retro-active Atkins Claim. This is an Eighth Amendment principle requiring juveniles and those with mental retardation to be excluded as classes from the death penalty.

Source: WOIO news, February 22, 2017

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