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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…

U.N. warns Japan against hanging Aum cult figures currently seeking retrial

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
The U.N. Human Rights Office has called into question Japan's possible execution of Aum Shinrikyo cult figures on death row who are seeking a retrial.

"We do note that some of the defendants in this case are reportedly requesting a retrial," Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the office, said in a written interview with Kyodo News.

"Execution of individuals with appeals or other proceedings still pending is against the U.N. Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty," she said.

Death sentences have been finalized for 13 members of the cult, including Aum founder Shoko Asahara, 63, who masterminded the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and left over 6,000 people ill.

Earlier this month, the Justice Ministry transferred 7 of the 13 on death row from the Tokyo detention center to other facilities across the country, likely bringing them a step closer to execution.

Japan has long tended to avoid executing death-row inmates while their retrial pleas were pending, but last year then-Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda said such a plea does not impede an execution.

All 13 inmates sentenced to death for crimes committed while members of the doomsday cult, including Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, had been housed in the Tokyo detention facility. Asahara remains in the facility, government sources said earlier.

The U.N. safeguards, adopted in 1984, partly stipulate that capital punishment "shall not be carried out pending any appeal or other recourse procedure or other proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentence."

"The U.N. Human Rights Office advocates for full abolition of the death penalty, and we have in our discussions with the Japanese government urged them to consider abolition," the spokeswoman said.

Source: Japan Times, March 28, 2018


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