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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Florida Supreme Court rejects death row appeals

Florida's death chamber
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected appeals by 2 death row inmates who were convicted of murdering women in the 1990s in Santa Rosa and Hillsborough counties.

One of the appeals was filed by Norman Grim, who was sentenced to death in the 1998 murder of Cynthia Campbell, whose body was found by a fisherman floating off the Pensacola Bay Bridge, according to a brief by Attorney General Pam Bondi's office. The victim, who was wrapped in a sheet, a shower curtain and masking tape, had been beaten in the face and suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest.

The other appeal was filed by Samuel Smithers, who was convicted in the 1996 murders of Cristy Cowan and Denise Roach. The bodies of the women were found in a Hillsborough County pond, with a 2002 Supreme Court summary of the case saying both women had been strangled and suffered other injuries, including "chop" wounds to Cowan's head.

The appeals dealt with issues related to a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision. 

The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida's death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries.

The subsequent Florida Supreme Court ruling said juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty. 

Juries unanimously recommended death sentences for Grim and Smithers.

But the appeals decided Thursday involved questions about the other findings needed to sentence defendants to death.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices R. Fred Lewis, Alan Lawson, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston agreed to reject both appeals. 

Justice Barbara Pariente supported rejecting the appeal in the Smithers case but dissented in the Grim case. Justice Peggy Quince dissented in both cases.

Source: floridapolitics.com, March 29, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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