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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…

Texas: Victim's parents make video plea to Abbott to spare their son’s murderer

Paul Storey
Paul Storey
What his jurors did not know after all the evidence was presented at his trial may have doomed death row inmate Paul Storey, according to a clemency petition filed Wednesday with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Storey, convicted in 2008 for the brutal execution-style murder of Jonas Cherry, is scheduled to die on April 12. Storey’s lawyers, his family, and Cherry’s parents are fighting to save Storey’s life.

Cherry begged for his life during the crime, which took place about 8:45 a.m. Oct. 16, 2006. Storey and Mark Porter stood over Cherry, who pleaded: “Please! I gave you what you want. Don’t hurt me.”

They refused and shot him twice in the head and twice in his legs. Cherry, who was approaching his first wedding anniversary, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Storey and Porter were convicted of capital murder, but only Storey got the death penalty. Porter got life without parole after making a deal with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.

If recent history is any guide, the chances that Storey’s request for mercy will be granted are slim.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has received 82 clemency applications in capital cases during the past five fiscal years and has recommended that none be granted. Neither Governor Rick Perry nor Greg Abbott have granted anyone clemency in a capital case during the past five fiscal years.

Texas also tends not to commute sentences for those convicted of crime. Out of the 551 commutation applications received during the past five fiscal years the board has recommended that four be granted and Abbott and Perry have granted none.

Perry and Abbott have not granted any emergency reprieves, conditional pardons, restorations of civil rights or pardons based on innocence during the past five years, despite the hundreds of applications received by the board during that same time period.

The pardons board has recommended that only a few applications be considered during the past five fiscal years.

Despite the daunting statistics, Storey’s advocates say they have hope that mercy will be granted in his case.

“Every case is unique and every case should be looked at that way,” said Mike Ware, one of the attorneys representing Storey. “Hopefully we can persuade the board and the governor to look at this case as a unique case. The reality is at this stage of the proceedings a clemency petition is just about the only thing a defendant can ask for.”

Storey’s attorneys argue in his clemency petition that almost no one associated with his case wanted him to be executed. The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office offered Storey a life sentence which he refused and Glenn and Judy Cherry, the victim’s parents, have made a video and sent a letter to state and local officials asking that his life be spared.

Storey’s mother, Marilyn Shankle-Grant, said Storey told her that he would have had to admit to killing Cherry in order to be offered a life prison sentence and Storey maintained that he did not kill Cherry.

“Paul said he did not shoot Cherry in the head,” Shankle-Grant said.

Misrepresentations


Jonas Cherry
Jonas Cherry
According to the petition, the views of Cherry’s parents were misrepresented by prosecutors during the original trial.

The prosecution argued that all of Cherry’s family and everyone who loved him believe that the death penalty is appropriate, the petition said. According to Storey’s attorneys and advocates, that was not true then and that is not true now.

“Judith and Glenn Cherry did not want death for Mr. Storey,” the petition states. “Unknown to the jury and contrary to the state’s argument, they stood with the family members who pleaded for the jury to spare Mr. Storey’s life.”

Subsequent psychological testing also indicated that Storey was just barely functional intellectually.

A juror, Sven Berger, who deliberated on Storey’s case, signed affidavits stating that had he known that the parents of the victim did not want Storey to receive the death penalty or had he known about Storey’s diminished intellectual capacity, he would not have voted for the death penalty.

“I hope that everything works out for Paul,” Berger said during an interview. “I felt kind of guilty. I still feel kind of guilty. The trial has never left my mind completely. And lately, I’ve thought about it a lot more.”

Source: Star-Telegram, Mitch Mitchell, March 24, 2017

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