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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…

Philippines Moves Closer to Reinstating Death Penalty

 House of Representatives in Quezon City, Philippines
The House of Representatives in Quezon City, Philippines
MANILA — The Philippine House of Representatives approved a proposal on Wednesday to reinstate the death penalty, paving the way for capital punishment to be restored more than a decade after it was abolished.

The bill, which would primarily allow drug-related offenses to be punishable by death, reflects President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign pledge to end crime and corruption.

Since Mr. Duterte took office in June, thousands of people suspected of being drug addicts or pushers have been killed by police officers or vigilantes as part of that campaign.

To become law, the death penalty bill must face a largely symbolic third reading in the House, which is controlled by allies of the president, before going to the Senate, also controlled by people close to Mr. Duterte. The bill would then have to be signed by the president.

House leaders had called for a voice vote on Wednesday, and advocates of reinstating the death penalty drowned out those opposing the measure.

“We lost. The next battleground is the Senate,” said Harry Roque, a lawmaker who voted against the measure.

Another opponent of the bill, Antonio Tinio, suggested that little time had been given to debate about the bill. “It is definitely unacceptable to railroad the passage of the death penalty bill because for burning issues such as this, congressional deliberations are not just for its members alone — they are also for the people,” he said.

Under the proposal, so-called heinous crimes would be punishable by death. Those include some forms of rape and murder, as well as drug offenses including the import, sale, manufacture, delivery and distribution of narcotics.

Drug possession would carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Capital punishment would typically be carried out by hanging, firing squad or lethal injection, according to the bill.

Once the measure reaches the Senate, legislators are expected to await a ruling by the Justice Department on whether it contravenes the country’s commitment to international conventions. But the justice secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre II, is a fraternity brother of Mr. Duterte’s, and he is not expected to oppose the act.

Senator Bam Aquino promised that lawmakers in the upper chamber would debate the bill but acknowledged that blocking it would be difficult.

The proposed law, he said, goes against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the country ratified in 1986. The convention prevents parties from carrying out execution as a form of punishment.

“This issue is so serious,” he said. “The debates should not be rushed, so the public can listen to the arguments in the Senate.”

The politically influential Roman Catholic Church, which Mr. Duterte has criticized for opposing his policies, has been at the forefront of the fight against the law.

Bishops said in a letter that was read in all churches last month that they “unequivocally oppose proposals and moves to return the death penalty into the Philippine legal system.”

“We regret that there are strident efforts to restore the death penalty,” the letter said. “Though the crime be heinous, no person is ever beyond redemption, and we have no right ever giving up on any person.”

It continued: “When we condemn violence, we cannot ourselves be its perpetrators, and when we decry murder, we cannot ourselves participate in murder, no matter that it may be accompanied by the trappings of judicial and legal process.”

The government is a party to international conventions against the death penalty, the church said, and has a duty to follow international opinions opposing the law.

Human rights experts denounced the decision by the House of Representatives.

“This is a major step backward for the Philippines,” Carlos H. Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who covers the country. He added, “This further erodes the already horrendous human rights situation in the Philippines.”

The International Drug Policy Consortium, a network of nongovernmental organizations that focus on issues related to drug production, trafficking and use, had called on Congress to oppose the measure.

The consortium also called on lawmakers to ensure proportionate sentencing of drug offenses.

The death penalty was abolished in 1987, but President Fidel Ramos reinstated it in 1993, citing “crime control.” President Gloria Arroyo suspended capital punishment in 2006.

Source: The New York Times, Felipe Villamor, March 1, 2017

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