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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…

California DAs should consider Florida state attorney's approach to death penalty

California's death row, San Quentin prison
California's death row, San Quentin prison
A new Florida State Attorney, Aramis Ayala, made a bold move when she recently announced that capital punishment is "not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice," and vowed not to seek the death penalty in future cases.

In taking this courageous stand, Ayala recognizes that the death penalty is a false promise to victims' families and the community. She joins other newly elected prosecutors across the nation who are no longer pushing for a policy that is tremendously costly, arbitrarily doled out and risky in its implementation. The death penalty is deeply flawed, and its use and support continue to dwindle nationwide.

California district attorneys should take a cue from their colleague in Florida and review and reconsider their support of this outdated policy.

Voters deserve to feel that their elected prosecutors actually listen to them. Last year, a majority of voters in 15 California counties supported Proposition 62, which would have repealed the state's death penalty. In Los Angeles, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, San Francisco, Alpine, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Yolo counties, California voters supported replacing the death penalty with the sentence of life in prison.

And it's not just the voters. There are many other signs that the death penalty in California should be dismantled once and for all. It's broken beyond repair.

California has not had an execution in more than 10 years because of legal challenges and difficulty acquiring drugs. The state has spent a decade unsuccessfully trying to create a legally sound lethal injection protocol. Corrections officials also have no means to acquire safe or reliable lethal injection drugs because pharmaceutical companies refuse to allow their lifesaving medicine to be used to execute people.

Proposition 66, which falsely promised to resume executions and was narrowly approved by the voters, is tied up in lawsuits because it is so deeply flawed legally and practically.

Fortunately, there is a viable alternative that is already available to prosecutors: life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is a severe punishment and ensures a lifetime behind bars. No one who has been sentenced to life without parole in California has been released, except those who were able to prove their innocence. The nation has evolved past the death penalty, and it's time for prosecutors to follow suit.

California's district attorneys have the power to reject this costly and failed policy. They can and should use their discretion to do what the Florida state attorney did: stop sending new people to our state's overflowing death row and take a stand against this failed government program.

The voters across California have shown that this is a decision they would support. It's time our district attorneys be the leaders we elected them to be.

Source: Sacramento Bee, Ana Zamora, March 22, 2017. Ana Zamora is criminal justice policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

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