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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…

Texas: 'Utterly unqualified' attorney used Wikipedia to defend death penalty inmate

Taichin Preyor
Taichin Preyor
Lawyers for death row inmate file last-minute motions days before scheduled execution

With just days left till the next scheduled execution in the Lone Star state, lawyers for convicted Bexar County killer TaiChin Preyor on Friday filed a flurry of last-minute paperwork seeking to halt the condemned man's death.

The pair of motions - in the Western District of Texas - claim one of Preyor's former attorneys on the case, Brandy Estelle, was "utterly unqualified" and may have even resorted to the popular crowdsourcing site Wikipedia for research in the case.

Preyor, who murdered a woman who sold him drugs more than a decade ago, is scheduled to meet his fate in Huntsville on July 27.

The 46-year-old was convicted in the 2004 slaying when he repeatedly stabbed Jami Tackett before cutting her throat. Neighbors found the dying woman after hearing her screams - and police caught Preyor after he came back to retrieve his car keys, the San Antonio Express-News previously reported.

The San Antonio man has been on death row since 2005 fighting his case. At issue now is the allegedly subpar defense counsel who represented Preyor during parts of the federal appeals process.

"It appears she relied on Wikipedia, of all things, to learn the complex ins and outs of Texas capital-punishment," Preyor's attorneys wrote of their client's former counsel, noting that Estelle's case files included a print-out of the Wikipedia page "Capital punishment in Texas" with a Post-It note labelled "Research."

In addition, court papers contend Estelle was getting help on the case from an attorney disbarred for showing a "gargantuan indifference to the interests of his clients," a federal court wrote in a published decision.

"No doubt fearing repercussions, Estelle never disclosed her disbarred co-counsel's lead role in the case to this Court," claims the convicted man's legal team, which includes Catherine Stetson, Preyor's pro bono attorney and a partner at Hogan Lovells.

The dozens of pages of motions and exhibits filed Friday call Jefferson and Estelle's work "shocking conduct" and "exactly the kind of extraordinary circumstance that warrants this Court's intervention."

The motions for stay of execution and relief from judgment ask the court to halt Preyor's death date and reopen his federal appeal, this time with "licensed and qualified counsel."

Last-minute stays of execution are more the exception than the rule - but they're certainly not unheard of.

In 2011, Harris County death row inmate Duane Edward Buck was granted a last-minute reprieve amid questions of racially tainted expert testimony. He's still on death row as the appeals process continues to play out.

Source: Chronicle, Keri Blakinger, July 17, 2017

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