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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 death row inmate loses appeal seeking new DNA testing

Rodney Reed
Rodney Reed
HOUSTON (AP) — The top criminal appeals court in Texas on Wednesday refused to allow additional DNA testing of evidence in an inmate's lengthy death penalty case.

Rodney Reed's attorneys sought the testing on more than 40 items collected in the investigation into the 1996 abduction, rape and strangling of 19-year-old Stacy Stites. Her body was found off the side of a road about 35 miles (56.32 kilometers) southeast of Austin.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said in its decision that the request by Reed's lawyers was the latest in a series of legal moves "to unreasonably delay the execution of his sentence or the administration of justice." The court said in its 38-page ruling that the attorneys failed to show the additional testing would change the outcome of Reed's trial.

The ruling upheld the findings of a judge in Bastrop County who also denied the DNA request after a hearing in 2014.

"Reed engaged and continues to engage in protracted litigation since his conviction was affirmed in 2000," the appeals court said.

The court also said the timing of the latest request "is even more suspect when we consider that it was filed on the same day the judge heard the state's motion to set an execution date filed three months earlier."

Reed's lead attorney, Bryce Benjet, said the ruling was "deeply flawed" and "flouts the clear intent of the Legislature that comprehensive testing be performed before the government sends a man to his death."

He said it's "puzzling" to him that the court would accuse Reed's lawyers of dragging out the appeals process.

"After the state delayed resolution of our request for months and the appellate court deliberated on the matter for over two years, a finding that Mr. Reed caused delay is simply inconsistent with the record," Benjet said.

He said he now expects to take the request for new DNA testing to the federal courts.

Reed, now 49, was arrested nearly a year after Stites' April 1996 slaying when his DNA surfaced in an unrelated sexual assault. He long has insisted he and Stites had a sexual relationship that was secret and consensual, accounting for his DNA on her body, and that her police officer fiance more likely was her killer.

The fiance later was jailed for abducting a woman in his police custody and having improper sexual activity with her.

The appeals court said the new DNA tests would not corroborate the defense theory of a secret relationship between Reed and Stites.

Reed's lawyers previously have referred to what they describe as the case's racial aspects. Reed is black and Stites was white. There was no reference to race in the latest court ruling.

Source: The Associated Press, Michael Graczyk, April 12, 2017

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