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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 executions bring Sister Helen Prejean’s death penalty fight to the fore

Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean
Prejean’s work opposing capital punishment was captured in her book and film Dead Man Walking, and now she’s speaking out against a spate of planned killings

Sister Helen Prejean, the Louisiana nun who through the movie of her book, Dead Man Walking, became the face of the American anti-death penalty movement, has a message for Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas who this month attempted to carry out an unprecedented killing spree of eight executions in 11 days.

“Governor, be a statesman and a real moral leader of the people,” she said. “Do what is morally right. As a state official, you should not be involved in the deliberate killing of human beings.”

On Thursday night, Hutchinson had his way: Lendell Lee, 51, a convicted murderer, was executed through lethal injection just four minutes before midnight, when his death warrant ran out.

By the twisted logic of US capital punishment, the killing went “smoothly”, lasting 12 minutes and with no visible signs of Lee’s distress. But it came with a heavy price.

Opprobrium has rained down on Hutchinson and his state from across the country and around the world. An inordinate amount of court time has been expended on a flurry of last-minute lawsuits that have temporarily spared the lives of four of the eight condemned men. Three more face the gurney next week.

At least the one positive element to emerge from a grim business has been to bring Prejean’s advocacy back to the fore. Her Twitter feed has been on fire all week, with excoriating criticism of both Hutchinson and Arkansas’ attorney general, Leslie Rutledge.

“Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” she asked them both in one memorable message.

As a nun who built her ministry in New Orleans, Prejean has had a singularly intimate relationship with the death penalty. Living and working in the deep south, she has no doubt that America’s cult of killing is a fundamentally southern phenomenon with its roots in slavery.

“The real practitioners of death have always been the 10 southern states that practiced slavery, Arkansas among them,” she said.

Prejean thinks the key to understanding and opposing US capital punishment is to understand the microculture from which it comes as well as its essential geographic unfairness. Studies have shown that just 2% of counties across America are responsible for generating most executions.

She sees her role as partly that of teacher to a nation woefully uneducated about its own justice system.

“I do what I do out of compassion for the American public who do not reflect deeply on the death penalty,” she said. “I have found in these 30 years getting out there that people are not wedded to the death penalty at all, they have just never thought about it.”

The Louisiana nun will keep firing up her white-hot censure of Arkansas next week, when two more inmates are set to die on Monday and a third on Thursday.


Source: The Guardian, Ed Pilkington, April 21, 2017

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