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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…

Arkansas judge takes to cot again in death-penalty protest

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen
A judge barred from presiding over death-penalty cases participated in a vigil Tuesday marking the four executions that the state carried out over a two-week period last year.

Just as he did at a rally last year, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen lay motionless on a cot Tuesday evening outside the Governor's Mansion while about 40 opponents of capital punishment gathered nearby.

Griffen rose from the cot shortly after 7 p.m. after a man untangled the judge from a rope that loosely tied him to the green cot. Asked why he participated in the protest again and whether he was concerned with the perception, he gave the same answer twice.

"We are still killing," he said.

Griffen, who is also a Baptist minister, has sued the state's Supreme Court justices, claiming they violated his constitutional rights by banning him from hearing death-penalty cases in response to his participation on Good Friday last year in an anti-death-penalty rally on the steps of the state Capitol and later in a protest at the Governor's Mansion during which he lay on a cot "in solidarity" with Jesus.

Earlier that same day -- on April 14, 2017 -- Griffen had issued a temporary restraining order that prevented the state from using the drug vercuronium bromide in executions. The ruling was made in response to a lawsuit filed by the drug's manufacturer, which said the state had illegally obtained the drug.

Last week, a federal judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit against the seven justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court, but the high court itself was dismissed from the case.

Dozens of anti-death-penalty supporters gathered outside the northern gates of the Governor's Mansion as Griffen lay on the green cot.

Furonda Brasfield, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said the dozens of capital-punishment opponents gathered Tuesday to remember the lives lost last year and the victims of violent crime. The supporters, she said, also gathered to build resolve and commitment to their goal of abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life without parole.

She also recalled last year's demonstrations and executions.

"It was like a roller-coaster ride, because there were so many stays and so many appeals," she said.

Brasfield thanked Griffen for standing up for his moral and religious beliefs against the death penalty, and said the group continues to have faith in Griffen as a judge who can make decisions based on the law and not on how he feels personally.

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Source: arkansas online, Gavin Lesnick, April 18, 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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