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…

For Indians on death row in the UAE, reprieve comes from an NRI entrepreneur

Federal Supreme Court, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Federal Supreme Court, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Ten Indians, convicted of killing a Pakistani man over a bootlegging feud in Abu Dhabi, were absolved of the death penalty in May 2017 after an amount of Rs 60 lakh was paid as blood money (diyah) to the victim's family. Dubai-based businessman of Indian origin, SP Singh Oberoi, who paid the amount as per provisions of the sharia law, says that there are several Indians on death row in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for similar murders. Often, these immigrants, in a bid to make quick money, find themselves in the midst of local turf wars between alcohol runners, and either end up dead, injured or as convicted murderers.

Oberoi, who has rescued 89 Indians from the gallows after paying over 3 million USD in blood money so far, said that 130 men have been on death row in the UAE for bootlegging-related murders. These include immigrants from Pakistan, Nepal, the Philippines, among other countries; however, the majority - over 100 of them - have been Indians from various states (Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, among others). The similarity, he says, lies in the financial background of these men, the abject poverty in each of their homes.

"In all these cases, without an exception, the boys have reached the UAE after their families paid an amount of Rs 1 to 1.5 lakh to local agents, who promised lucrative, high-paying jobs for their children abroad. The amount, in all cases, was arranged by the families through loans and mortgages. But when the boys reached UAE, they discovered that they were employed in menial jobs, where their monthly salary did not exceed Rs 14,000. Further, their monthly expenses were around Rs 8,000. They did save Rs 6,000 on an average, but the loan interest itself was Rs 10,000 to 15,000. That's how they ended up indulging in illegal activities like bootlegging to make a quick buck," said Oberoi, a 62-year-old who owns seven companies in the UAE.

Turf wars, said Oberoi, are a mundane feature of the bootlegging culture in the UAE, where the sale of alcohol is strictly controlled or regulated, especially in the dry emirate, Sharjah. Areas, like in most cities with the presence of local Mafiosi, are divided among gang leaders, each with their own sources and clients for illegal supply of alcohol. However, these gangs often infiltrate into each others' zones, leading to turf wars, injuries, and many a time, fatalities. When the police reach the spot after learning of the murder, they pick up members of the rival gang, and in all such cases, the accused are either sentenced to life imprisonment, which ranges from 25 to 40 years in the UAE, or to death.

Oberoi says that the Shariat law has provisions for diyah, which means that a convict can be absolved of the death penalty if he pays a minimum of 2 lakh dirhams (Rs 35 lakh) as blood money to the victim's family if the victim was male, and one lakh dirhams (Rs 17.5 lakh) in case of female victims. Upon accepting the money, the family issues a consent letter for pardon, which is admitted in court, and the death sentence is waived off. But since the amount is substantially high for the immigrant accused to foot, they often remain on death row.

"I first learnt of these youths on death row in 2010, when I read a news report about 17 Indians being sentenced to the gallows for the murder of one man. It sounded strange to me. How could 17 men be responsible for killing one? That's when I visited these boys in jail, spoke to the Indian embassy, and got in touch with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). With the MEA's moral backing, I paid the blood money amount of $1.2 million (Rs 6.4 crore as of today) to the victim's family, and the 17 boys were pardoned from the death penalty. My contention wasn't to save convicted murderers only because they were Indians. I wanted to help 17 families, the tens of men, women and children waiting for these boys to return," said Oberoi, who has been spending 98 % of his income on repatriating such Indians for the past 7 years.

The businessman, however, says that coughing up money is not as difficult a task as convincing victims' families to accept money in exchange for justice for their sons. In every case, he personally reaches out to the families, and often, flies them to Dubai, and sponsors their hotel stays. In the case of the 17 Indians in 2010, he hosted the Islamabad-based family for 40 days in Dubai.

"In another case, 3 boys from Gurdaspur were on death row for killing a youth from Punjab. When I went to the victim's home in Punjab, they were ready to beat me up. I explained to them that their boy had lost his life while he was working abroad to make money for his family, and that now that he's gone, they should help serve his purpose. But they were not moved. I explained that families of the 3 accused would be as aggrieved as them after their boys were hanged, and that they shouldn't let such a fate befall them. But they didn't listen. After a few minutes, I noticed that the murdered boy had 3 sisters - aged 19, 13 and 9 years. I spoke to the oldest daughter, and explained to her that the money would help marrying the 3 girls, secure the future of the aged parents. When the girl was convinced, she convinced her father," said Oberoi.

Oberoi stated that he is currently working to secure pardon for 16 other Indians on death row for the same offence in the UAE. 1 case involves 11 boys from Punjab convicted for murdering 2 other Indian boys in a bootlegging brawl, and the other involves 5 Indians (4 from Punjab, one from Uttar Pradesh) convicted for killing another Indian from UP.

"These boys on death row are not hardened criminals; they do not have criminal antecedents. They are poor and desperate. That's why the jails here in the UAE are clogged with such children. Even when I get their death sentences pardoned, I do not contest their jail terms. I let them serve it. They should serve it; they have sinned essentially. My only motive is to save their lives so that their families are protected from the inexplicable grief of losing a child," said Oberoi.

Source: firstpost.com, June 5, 2017

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