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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…

Ohio: Parole board recommends clemency for William T. Montgomery

Ohio's death chamber
COLUMBUS — A divided Ohio Parole Board on Friday recommended that Gov. John Kasich show mercy toward William T. Montgomery, convicted in the slaying of a 20-year-old South Toledo woman 32 years ago.

Montgomery, 52, is set to die on Ohio’s lethal injection gurney on April 11 for the March 8, 1986, robbery-motivated killing of Debra Ogle. He is also serving a separate life sentence for killing her roommate, Cynthia Tincher, 19, who was targeted because she could place Montgomery and convicted co-conspirator Glover Heard, Jr., with Ms. Ogle.

The parole board voted 6-4 to favorably recommend that the governor grant clemency.

“Though it was held by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to fall below the level of constitutional error, the state’s failure to disclose the police report documenting that Ogle was observed by witnesses on March 12, 1986, four days after Montgomery is alleged to have killed her, gives a majority of the Board pause nevertheless,” the majority wrote.

Former high-school classmates of Ms. Ogle reported to police that they’d seen her from a distance in a car and exchanged waves with her at her apartment complex after she’d gone missing.

They later retracted that statement, saying they must have seen Ms. Ogle’s younger sister. The 1986 police report was not turned over to the defense at the time and did not surface until well after the conviction.

The board also pointed to letters since written by former jurors who expressed doubt as to whether they would have returned the same verdicts if they had this information.

“The failure to disclose that report coupled with the issues ... relative to Montgomery’s jurors raised a substantial question as to whether Montgomery’s death sentence was imposed through the kind of just and credible process that a punishment of this magnitude requires,” the majority wrote.

Montgomery had accused Heard of pulling the trigger. But the prosecution and 6th Circuit said that it the police report were accepted as true, it would not have changed the outcome of the trial. If Ms. Ogle did die on March 12, then Heard could not have been the killer. He was already in police custody at that point.

The board’s minority pointed to Montgomery’s juvenile record of involuntary manslaughter.

“Nothing presented at the clemency hearing warrants reaching any conclusion other than that reached by the jury at his trial, which is that Montgomery caused the deaths of two individuals,” the minority said. “Nor can the senselessness of those killings and the heinous manner in which they were perpetrated be overlooked.”

A more modern review in 2012 of the old autopsy records led a Colorado forensics scientist to tell the board that Ms. Ogle’s death likely came closer to March 12 than March 8, given her body’s condition.

If the later date were accepted, it would upset the timeline presented at trial that Ms. Ogle was killed first and Ms. Tincher second to get rid of a witness. Ms. Tincher’s body was discovered on the 8th.

Montgomery has maintained that he’s innocent. In a hearing last week, Montgomery’s lawyer, Jon Oebker, was not specific in the type of clemency sought, saying Montgomery simply wants to live so he can continue to pursue a new trial.

“We now have six parole board members, six federal judges, and two jurors who agree this is not the case where execution should be the outcome,” Montgomery’s attorneys, Mr. Oebker and John Q. Lewis said in a joint statement.

“We pray that Governor Kasich provides the relief to Mr. Montgomery so he may pursue a fair trial that is free of gross prosecutorial misconduct where all the evidence is considered, not just what prosecutors think is worthy of consideration,” they said. “We also keep the Tincher and Ogle families in our thoughts today.”

The Republican governor is not obligated to follow the board’s recommendations. If he does grant clemency, his options include commuting Montgomery’s death sentence to life in prison without parole, an option not available at the time of his trial, or release him outright.

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates — whose husband, current Common Pleas Judge James Bates prosecuted the original case — said the board did its job, although she disagreed with the outcome.

“I would be very troubled if he ever gets out,” she said. “He’s a dangerous, pathological person. That would give me some pause. Whatever happens, I hope the governor doesn’t let him out.”

A federal judge ordered a new trial in 2007 based on the withheld police report, and a 2-1 decision of the 6th Circuit agreed. But the 6th Circuit’s full bench in 2011 voted 10-5 to reverse those decisions and reinstate the convictions and sentences.

Heard was arrested first and, after several differing stories, pointed the finger at Montgomery. He is serving a sentence of 15 years to life and could seek parole in 2021.

Source: The Blade, Jim Provance, March 16 , 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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