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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…

Africa: Numbers of Africans Sentenced to Die Soars

More than 1 000 Nigerians languish on death row.

Governments in sub-Saharan Africa sentenced at least 1 083 people to death in 2016 - more than double the 443 people condemned to die in 2015, according to a recent report by international human rights organisation Amnesty International.

The research shows that rising numbers of people sentenced to die in the region are largely driven by an upswing of such judgments in Nigeria, which handed down death sentences to almost 500 people in 2016.

Although the number of death sentences more than doubled, the region saw fewer actual executions - 22 people. The executions took place in five countries, the bulk of which were in Somalia. The other countries included Sudan and Botswana.

"Countries in sub-Saharan Africa that continue to hold on to the death penalty are showing utter disregard to the right to life of people and are on the wrong side of history as the world is moving away from the punishment," says Amnesty International's death penalty adviser Oluwatosin Popoola.

Amnesty's latest global survey on the use of the death penalty was released in April and shows that, globally, fewer countries are prescribing death sentences. It also argues that fewer people were executed in 2016 than in the previous year but cautions that reported rates of death sentences and executions are likely to be under-reported because many governments do not publish statistics on their use of the death penalty.

In Southern Africa, Botswana was the only country to execute anyone in 2016. It was that country's first state-mandated killing since 2013.

"Botswana's step backwards must not be replicated elsewhere in the region," Amnesty International's Southern Africa director Deprose Muchena warns in the report.

About 300 people across the Southern African region were sentenced to death by the end of 2016, the overwhelming majority of whom were in Zambia - 157 - followed by Zimbabwe - 97.

"African countries that still retain the death penalty can reduce this by abolishing mandatory death sentences, reducing the number of offences that provide for the death penalty and restricting the imposition of death sentences to the 'most serious crimes' as provided for by international human rights law," Popoola explains.

The report does not investigate the effects of capital punishment on the families of death-row prisoners, but says it can prolong the suffering of the victims' families and those condemned to die, says Popoola.

He says countries should ideally restrict the use of the death penalty with the aim of abolishing it in the future.

Popoola argues: "The death penalty diverts resources and energy that could be better used to work against violent crime and assist those affected by it.

"It is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it."

Source: allafrica.com, May 11, 2017

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