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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…

Arkansas Struggles to Find Enough People to Watch Executions

Lethal Injection Chamber From Witness Room, Cummins Unit, Grady, Arkansas,
Death Chamber From Witness Area, Cummins Unit, Grady, Arkansas
The state of Arkansas, which plans to execute eight inmates over a period of 10 days next month, is struggling to overcome a logistical problem to carry that out: There are not enough people who want to watch them die.

A state law requires that at least six people witness an execution to ensure that the state’s death penalty laws are properly followed. But so far, finding that many people has proved difficult, prompting the director at the Department of Correction to take the extraordinary step of personally asking for volunteers.

A department spokesman declined to say whom the director, Wendy Kelley, has approached for help, but she has extended invitations at least to members of the Little Rock Rotary Club, according to news reports. Ms. Kelley made the request, which the members initially thought was a joke, after delivering a keynote address on Tuesday.

“You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21,” Ms. Kelley told the members, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “So if you’re interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office.”

Bill Booker, a Rotary Club member, said some people in the audience briefly laughed at her remarks. “It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding,” he told KARK-TV, an NBC affiliate in Little Rock.

The spokesman for the Department of Correction, Solomon Graves, declined to describe the response Ms. Kelley had received to her requests. “We continue to be confident in our ability to carry out these sentences on the dates set by the governor,” Mr. Graves wrote in a text message on Friday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas last month scheduled the executions of eight men — four black and four white, and all convicted of murder — from April 17 to 27. Two men will be executed on each of four execution dates within that time.

The dates were placed so closely together because of another logistical issue: Arkansas’s supply of midazolam, a sedative used in a three-drug injection method, has an expiration date at the end of April.

Capital punishment has been suspended in Arkansas since 2005 because of legal challenges and the difficulty in acquiring lethal-injection drugs. The state tried to restart its capital punishment system in 2015 and set dates for that year, but appeals forced the postponement of the executions.

The state law requires six to 12 “respectable citizens” to be present, and Ms. Kelley told the Rotary Club that the state also struggled in 2015 to find enough witnesses for the executions before they were suspended.

Source: The New York Times, Matthew Haag, March 25, 2017


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