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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…

China praises courts for punishing state security crimes

Execution in China: At 9:45 a.m. on the site for public trial, He Xiuling
cried again. Among the two dozens of inmates to be executed that day,
she was the only one that shed tears. She was also the youngest. Read more.
BEIJING — The convictions of a prominent defense attorney and his associates were among the country’s top legal achievements last year, China’s chief justice said Sunday, highlighting a case that has been criticized by Western governments and rights groups.

In a report to the national legislature, Zhou Qiang also said that China, which is believed to execute more people than the rest of the world combined, gave the death penalty “to an extremely small number of criminals for extremely serious offenses” in the past 10 years.

The actual number of executions in China is a state secret. A 2007 decision that all death sentences must be reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court is believed to have reduced the number of executions dramatically.

Zhou praised courts for severely punishing crimes against state security and violent terrorism, and said the trend will continue in order “to resolutely safeguard the country’s political security.”

The only case of subverting state power he highlighted was that of Zhou Shifeng, director of a law firm that used to be one of the country’s best-known advocates for human rights. He was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in August for attempting to manipulate public opinion and harm national security.

Rights groups and Western governments including the U.S. had urged China to release Zhou and other activists and lawyers detained in a sweeping crackdown that began in 2015. Critics say it’s about the ruling Communist Party silencing opponents.

Death row inmates are escorted off the trial site to the execution ground.
Death row inmates are escorted off the trial site to the execution ground.
The chief justice’s report didn’t say how many people were prosecuted or convicted of such offences, or how many cases were handled.

Hundreds of people have been killed in recent years in attacks in the northwestern Xinjiang region, which Beijing blames on Islamic militants and separatists from the Uighur minority. Activists say repressive government policies have exacerbated tensions and radicalized local youth.

For the past four years, China has also carried out a crackdown on corruption intended to net officials at all levels. Chief Justice Zhou said that Chinese courts dealt with 45,000 cases of graft involving 63,000 people last year, an increase from 2015. A total of 35 were at or above ministerial or provincial level, he said.

In a separate report to the assembly, China’s top prosecutor, Cao Jianming, said that the government last year initiated investigations against 47,650 people for taking advantage of their official posts. He said 48 officials above the rank of minister were prosecuted, including Ling Jihua, a former chief of staff to ex-President Hu Jintao who was sentenced to life in prison in July for taking bribes, illegally obtaining state secrets and abusing power.

Dui Hua, a U.S.-based rights group, estimated that about 2,400 people were executed in China in 2013, one-tenth the number in 1983. It said that according to its sources, the number of annual executions remained largely unchanged in 2014 and 2015.

China typically hands out death sentences in cases of murder, rape, robbery and drug offenses.

Sources: Associated Press, Washington Post, Louise Watt, March 12, 2017

Related content: The final 12 hours of Chinese women on death row, Ministry of Tofu, November 29, 2011. Right before June 26, 2003, which is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the lives of four female drug dealers incarcerated in a detention center in Wuhai were coming to an end. On the night of June 24, 2003, a photographer, with permission and consent from the relevant department and news subjects, walked into the No.1 Detention Center of Wuhai and documented their last night spent there...

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