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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…

Miami murder conviction to test Florida's new death-penalty law

12 jurors deliberated just half-an-hour Wednesday before convicting a man of murdering a security guard outside a popular North Miami-Dade restaurant.

Now, they will become the 1st jury in Miami to be asked to agree unanimously on meting out the death penalty.

Wednesday's verdict came 3 months after Florida lawmakers changed the law so that jurors must agree in unison when handing down execution as punishment for murder.

The same jury will reconvene later this summer to consider Silver's sentence. DNA on a bloody ski mask was the key evidence.

At closing arguments on Wednesday, prosecutors said Silver - dressed in black and wielding a 9mm pistol - targeted 62-year-old Solmeus Accimeus as he sat in his car at closing time outside Esther's Restaurant.

Intending to rob the guard, Silver walked up to the car and fired at the guard, penetrating the man's aorta, spraying blood all over the gunman, prosecutors said. Moments later, as he fled, Silver threw away the ski mask, which had Accimeus' blood on the outside, and Silver's DNA on the inside, prosecutors said.

Prosecutor Gail Levine told jurors that Silver, his mouth having been covered in blood, later blurted out to some friends:

"'Can you smell it? Can you smell the death on me?'" Levine said. "The words of this defendant after he murdered Solmeus Accimeus in cold blood ... those words alone tell the whole story."

Prosecutors Levine, Tammy Pitiriciu and Josh Hubner began presenting evidence on June 21.

Assistant Public Defender Steven Yermish suggested to jurors that the DNA evidence was flawed and didn't prove he wore the mask during the murder.

"The DNA is not as definitive as one would think," Yermish said.

This will be the 2nd time Silver has faced possible execution.

A different jury, in 2015, convicted Silver of murdering a jogger in Coral Gables, part of a crime spree that also included shooting up a pizzeria in Delray Beach. Jurors, however, decided against recommending the death penalty, and Silver was sentenced to life in prison.

For decades in Florida, prosecutors only needed at least a majority 7 votes for a death-penalty recommendation, with the judge ultimately meting out the punishment.

Then in January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's sentencing scheme was unconstitutional because defendants have a right to a trial by jury.

Florida lawmakers responded by rewriting the state law, replacing the judge's override and requiring a vote of at least 10 of 12 jurors to sentence someone to death.

But the Florida Supreme Court later ruled that the new law was unconstitutional because jury verdicts need to be unanimous.

In March, the Legislature passed a new law requiring jurors to unanimously agree on a death sentence.

Source: miamiherald.com, June 28, 2017

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