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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…

Florida schedules its first execution in more than 18 months

Mark James Asay
Mark James Asay
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida is planning to execute its next Death Row inmate in August — which will be the first execution in more than a year and a half amid months of legal limbo over the state’s death penalty law.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday issued a death warrant that reschedules Mark James Asay’s execution for 6 p.m. Aug. 24.

Asay was convicted in 1988 of killing two men in Jacksonville. If his execution happens as scheduled, Asay will become the first white person put to death for murdering a black person in Florida, now-retired Justice James E.C. Perry previously said.

Asay was originally scheduled to be put to death in March 2016, but his execution was halted that month in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Hurst v. Florida that upended Florida’s death penalty law by deeming unconstitutional the state’s procedures for sentencing prisoners to death.

As part of addressing that decision, the Florida Supreme Court last December cemented death sentences for nearly 200 prisoners — including Asay — whose sentences were finalized before a June 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling referenced in the Hurst decision.

State justices in December also lifted a stay on the execution of Asay, in particular, paving the way for executions to resume in the state.

When asked why Scott waited more than six months to issue the new warrant, his spokesman John Tupps said in a statement: “After consideration of the facts, including the Legislature passing and the governor signing SB 280 earlier this year, our office worked with the Attorney General’s office to proceed today.”

SB 280 was the Legislature’s solution to fix the state’s death penalty procedures following the Hurst decision. It requires a unanimous decision by a jury to sentence a defendant to death. The bill was among the first actions lawmakers took in the 2017 session. Scott signed the new procedures into law shortly thereafter in mid-March.

Tupps added: “This is one of the governor’s most solemn duties involving decisions that are made only after a full and thorough review. His foremost concerns are the families of the victims and the finality of judgments.”

Scott wrote in the warrant that he had received formal guidance on Monday from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi that the stay on Asay’s execution had been lifted and could legally proceed. He added that state law “requires I set a new date for execution of the death sentence within 10 days after such certification.”

A spokeswoman for Bondi said her office certifies “upon request from the governor’s office.”

The last inmate executed in Florida — and the only one of 2016 — was Oscar Ray Bolin Jr., who was put to death Jan. 7 of that year.

Despite the absence of executions, the population on Florida’s Death Row has declined as the Florida Supreme Court vacates some death sentences because they were set using procedures deemed illegal by Hurst.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Hurst five days after Bolin was executed, prompting a need for the Legislature to rewrite the sentencing laws this year.

Last October, the Florida Supreme Court decided that the Hurst ruling required unanimous votes by juries to make a death sentence — which lawmakers codified into state law this spring.

Source: Miami Herald, Kristen M. Clark, July 3, 2017

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