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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 votes to shorten death penalty appeals

The Alabama House of Representatives Tuesday approved a bill that would shorten the appeals process for those on death row.

The chamber voted 74 to 26 for the measure, long a priority of the Alabama attorney general’s office. The House amended the bill on the floor, which will send the measure back to the Senate.

The vote in the Montgomery County delegation fell down partisan lines. Democratic Reps. Alvin Holmes, John Knight and Thad McClammy of Montgomery and Kelvin Lawrence of Hayneville voted against the bill; Republicans Reed Ingram of Pike Road; Dimitri Polizos of Montgomery and Chris Sells of Greenville voted for it.

Under current law, those convicted of capital crimes can appeal the decision, then file a post-conviction appeal known as a Rule 32 measure that can challenge aspects of the conviction, such as the adequacy of counsel. The bill passed by the House, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would require both processes to move concurrently.

Supporters say it would “streamline” the appeals process and take years off the appellate process, sparing victims of crime going through it.

“If a defendant is found guilty, the court appoints two different appellate attorneys, so he’s got two different people working for him,” said Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, who carried the bill in the House.

Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall praised the passage in a statement.

“Each year that these appeals drag on, the general public is further removed from and even desensitized to the horrendous crimes that led to the sentences of every individual on death row,” the statement said. But, for the families of victims, the pain is not numbed with the passing of years.”

Opponents said by making the two processes concurrent, the state would make it more likely that an innocent person would be executed. Linda Klein, the president of the American Bar Association, sent a letter to House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston on May 12 urging them to oppose the bill.

“While the ABA respects the importance of finality and judicial efficiency, quicker resolution of cases where a life is at stake should not take priority over ensuring fundamental fairness and accuracy of those convictions,” the letter said.

Those arguments were echoed by Democrats speaking against the bill Tuesday afternoon. Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said the Legislature was trying to “speed up the process of killing people” despite approving an amendment declaring Alabama a pro-life state during the session.

“This is Alabama,” Jackson said. “We understand we’re down in the South where we believe in killing people.”

The House accepted an amendment from Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa – who voted against the bill – to raise the cap on indigent defense from $1,500 to $7,500.

The bill goes back to the Senate for concurrence or conference committee.

Source: Montgomery Advertiser, Brian Lyman, May 16, 2017

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