Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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…

Dylann Roof, Charleston church shooter, gets nine life sentences

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Convicted Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof was given nine consecutive life sentences in state prison after he pleaded guilty to state murder charges Monday, leaving him to await execution in a federal prison and sparing his victims and their families the burden of a second trial.

Judge J.C. Nicholson imposed the sentences following a hearing in which church members and Roof’s grandfather testified about the personal toll of the case.

Standing at the defense table with his attorneys, clad in a gray and white striped jail jumpsuit and handcuffed to a chain at his waist, the self-avowed white supremacist entered his guilty pleas.

Under a plea agreement, Judge J.C. Nicholson sentenced Roof to life in prison on the state murder charges. The deal with state prosecutors, who also had been pursuing the death penalty, came in exchange for a life prison sentence on the state charges.

But before sentencing Roof, Nicholson heard members of historically black Emanuel AME Church describe the toll the June 2015 shooting took on them and their community.

“The impact at Mother Emanuel has been far reaching,” said Pastor Eric Manning, who currently leads Emanuel’s congregation. “We visit the crime scene every day.”

Blondelle Gadsden, sister of slain Myra Thompson, said, “Even though we’re at a point where death has been the sentence for him, my heart still goes out to him in hopes that he would repent to save himself from himself. I can’t think of anything worse that he could do at this point than to not accept Christ and try to make his days on this earth a little bit more peaceful.”

But Eva Dilligard, whose sister Susie Jackson was slain by Roof, said, “I think somebody doing something like that, he should get death. ... I’m very sorry. I’m a child of God. But he hurt the entire family.”

The judge also heard from Roof’s grandfather, Columbia attorney Joe Roof.

“I want everyone to understand that nothing is all bad, and Dylann is not all bad,” the elder Roof said. He added that he and his wife pray for the Emanuel families every night, and are sensitive to their problems.

“We have been distressed and just sick over what has happened to these families,” the grandfather said.

Dylann Roof had been unapologetic at his federal trial as he listened to days of testimony from survivors. They described in harrowing detail the hail of bullets that began when parishioners closed their eyes to pray during a Bible study.

After Monday’s hearing, Roof, 23, will return to a local jail, while technically in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, until he’s transferred to a Bureau of Prisons facility “in short order,” a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press.

The official spoke on a condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Roof will be taken to a federal prison in another state, where he will await his execution on charges of hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion.

Roof was convicted late last year of 33 federal charges. He was sentenced to death during a separate proceeding earlier this year.

Source: CBS News, April 2017

Lack of lethal injection drugs among prosecutor's reasons for skipping 2nd Roof trial

South Carolina's inability to carry out death penalty was one of the reasons the Charleston-area solicitor chose not to continue with a second death penalty trial against Dylann Roof, she said Monday.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson repeatedly had said she would seek the death penalty against Roof even though the federal government was seeking to do the same. But she said on Monday there were several reasons why she hashed out a plea agreement with Roof instead of proceeding with a state trial.

"Our mission, and over the past few weeks since the federal government obtained the federal conviction, was to see what we could do to ensure the surest path to Dylann Roof's execution," Wilson said. "With us securing a life sentence just in case - in the very, very unlikely event that something were to happen to the federal conviction - we have our conviction in place."

On Monday, Roof pleaded guilty to 9 counts of murder and 3 counts of attempted murder in state court for the slayings of 9 African-American parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston the night of June 17, 2015. As part of the plea agreement, Roof was sentence to 9 sentences of life in prison.

But Roof was sentenced to death by a federal judge in January, after a jury found him guilty on 33 counts, 9 of them involving hate crimes. Wilson said she - and at times her staff - attended that trial. She said it was one of the most "gut-wrenching" experiences she has had in her life.

Putting the survivors and the families of those killed in the shooting through a 2nd death penalty trial "was not the smartest, wisest or most compassionate thing to do," when a federal judge had already imposed a death sentenced on Roof, a Columbia-area white supremacist.

Wilson also said she believed the federal government is now "more committed" to the death penalty than in the past, and that she expects it will be implemented.

But she added that South Carolina also doesn't have the drugs to carry out the execution.

South Carolina's last supply of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013. The state has been unable to obtain alternative drugs, because pharmaceutical companies that previously compounded the drugs have been pressured into ending the practice.

"It may be that in the future that we are able to secure the drug that is used for executions, but it's not our present," Wilson said.

"If South Carolina and the state courts were the only option for pursuing the death penalty, I would have pursued it," she said. "But because we have a death sentence in place now, I do not believe it's necessary."

Source: thestate.com, April 11, 2017

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