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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…

Alabama House committee votes to shorten death penalty appeals

MONTGOMERY, ALA.-- Death row inmates would have less time to file appeals, under a bill approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee that aims to reduce the number of years that can elapse between sentencing and execution.

The legislation, which has already cleared the Senate, would require inmates to raise claims such as that of ineffective counsel at the same time as the inmate's direct appeal claiming trial errors. 

Currently, inmates appeal trial errors first and then begin appeals on other issues, such as ineffective counsel. The bill now moves to the House floor.

State appeals in Alabama capital cases can take 15 to 18 years, said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. That timeframe would drop to nine to 11 years under the proposal, Ward said.

Ward said inmates would have the same number of appeals. He said the bill is based on the appellate process in Texas.

Opposed lawmakers said they feared that it would diminish the ability to uncover mistakes in capital cases.

"In my opinion, and many others, this bill substantially increases the likelihood that someone who is innocent will be put to death because we want to rush through the process and kill someone," said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.

"I disagree," Ward replied.

England noted the case of an Alabama inmate who was freed in 2015 after 30 years on death row.

Ray Hinton was convicted of murders at two 1985 fast food restaurant robberies in Birmingham. After the Equal Justice Initiative agreed to represent him in 1999, Hinton won a breakthrough when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Hinton's trial defense was so deficient that it was unconstitutional. Prosecutors dropped plans for a second trial when three state forensic experts couldn't match crime scene bullets to the revolver taken from Hinton's home.

Ward argued that appeals would be resolved sooner by consolidating the process.

Source: Associated Press, May 9, 2017

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