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

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…

Texas executes Rosendo Rodriguez

Rosendo Rodriguez
HUNTSVILLE, Texas - A Wichita Falls man has now become the fourth person executed in Texas this year.

Rosendo Rodriguez, III, 38, was executed Tuesday evening in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a woman whose body was found in suitcases in a landfill in Lubbock in the early 2000s.

Rodriguez was pronounced dead in at 6:46 pm CDT. He was executed one day after his birthday.

His last words were, "With that Lord into your hands I command my spirit. I have ran the race, I have fought the fight. I have accomplished what God intended me to do. Warden I'm ready to join my Father... Here I go."

He also said, "The State may have my body, but they will never have my soul."

In 2006, Rodriguez rejected a plea deal which would have given him life in prison.

Rodriguez's execution is the seventh this year in the United States and the fourth in Texas, which has executed more inmates than any state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Attorneys for Rodriguez filed the last-ditch appeal, seeking judicial review after they questioned the integrity and findings of medical examiners in Lubbock relating to the autopsy on the victim, Summer Baldwin, 29.

The body of Baldwin, described by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as “a drug-addicted prostitute,” was found in a suitcase in a Lubbock landfill in September 2005. A police investigation found the suitcase was recently purchased and paid for by a debit card belonging to Rodriguez, court papers showed.

Baldwin’s blood was later found in a hotel room where Rodriguez stayed. Rodriguez, later dubbed “the suitcase killer” was arrested and confessed to police, prosecutors said.

In a police statement admitted at trial, Rodriguez said he had sexual intercourse with the victim and placed her in a choke-hold until she lost consciousness and had no pulse. He then purchased the suitcase, stuffed Baldwin inside and threw the suitcase into a dumpster, prosecutors said.

He also admitted to murdering Joanna Rogers, 16, in 2004, stuffing her body in a suitcase and throwing the bag away, prosecutors said. His death sentence is for Baldwin’s murder.

Lawyers for Rodriguez have asked for a new autopsy for Baldwin after it was reported that she may have died from blunt force trauma, saying her death could have come from a trash compactor and not from their client.

Lawyers for Texas said the exact manner of death does not matter because it was Rodriguez’s actions that directly led to Baldwin’s death.

“Demonstrating that Rodriguez did not cause the blunt force injuries does not negate the fact that he asphyxiated her and then placed her in harm’s way,” they said in court filings.

 The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to block the execution. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito denied Rodriguez's stay of execution.

The high court, without comment, rejected an appeal from attorneys for 38-year-old Rosendo Rodriguez III less than 30 minutes before he was scheduled to be taken to the Texas death chamber Tuesday evening for lethal injection.

His lawyers had questioned the credibility of a medical examiner who testified at Rodriguez's trial about the fatal injuries suffered by Summer Baldwin when she was raped and beaten in 2005.

Her body then was folded inside a suitcase and dumped in the trash. The suitcase purchase was tracked back to Rodriguez, who had been in Lubbock for Marine reserve training and was arrested at his parents' home in San Antonio.

Witnesses to the execution included Rodriguez's mother, sister and friends, Rogers' parents and brother and Baldwin's mother and aunt.

Rodriguez becomes the 4th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 549th overall since the state resumed executions on December 7, 1982.

Rodriguez becomes the 7th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1472nd overall since the nation resumed executions on Janaury 17, 1977. 

Sources: Reuters, Texomas, everythinglubbock.com, Twitter, Associated Press, Rick Halperin, March 27, 2018

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but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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