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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…

Couple sentenced to death for murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait

Domestic helper Joanna Demafelis
Man currently in Lebanese custody while authorities mull a Kuwaiti request to extradite him

Dubai: A Kuwaiti court has sentenced a Lebanese man and his wife to death after they were convicted in absentia of killing Filipina domestic helper Joanna Demafelis in a case that triggered a crisis between the Philippines and the Gulf Arab state, Kuwaiti newspapers reported on Sunday.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte last month ordered workers in Kuwait to return home over alleged abuse following the discovery of the female worker’s body in the freezer of an abandoned home that belonged to a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife.

Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai said the pair were convicted in absentia of premeditated murder.

Al Qabas, another newspaper, said the criminal court issued its verdict at its first hearing, convicting the pair of “killing the Filipina worker and putting her body in the freezer”.

It said the murder was discovered more than a year after it had taken place and that the couple had been sentenced in absentia. Both newspapers reported the death sentence.

The sentences are subject to appeal under Kuwaiti law.

Lebanese media reported last month that the worker’s former employer was in custody in connection with the case and that authorities were considering a Kuwaiti request to extradite him.

AFP news agency, quoting a judicial source, reported in February that the woman was being held in her native Syria.

Kuwait and the Philippines, eager to end the crisis, signed an agreement last month regulating some working conditions for domestic workers in the Gulf Arab State.

There are more than 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, the Philippine Foreign Ministry estimates, with most working as domestic helpers. There are also large numbers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Source: Gulf News, April 1, 2018


Solon: Death sentence vs. employers of slain OFW just 'paper victory'


Domestic helper
While most welcomed the decision of a Kuwaiti court to impose death penalty on the employers of slain overseas Filipino worker Joanna Demafelis, a lawmaker remained skeptical on the ruling.

"I didn't rejoice, because first of all, there is no jurisdiction over the suspect because he was never arraigned, although we have different justice systems," Rep. Aniceto Bertiz of the ACTS-OFW Party-list said.

Bertiz also said information on the whereabouts of Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun all came from Kuwaiti officials, and Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa.

"For the past several months now, since the imposition of the ban, (we hear) only the side of Ambassador Villa who is in Kuwait. Why did we not hear anything from the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) coming directly from our post in Lebanon?" he asked.

The lawmaker then said that it would not be possible for Kuwait to carry out the sentence against Assaf soon, until the Lebanese government decides he is really guilty.

"If it's really true that the killer is in the custody of Lebanon, it can only be imposed or implemented if both countries will agree to extradite the suspect, pero until then, para bang, it is just a paper victory," Bertiz said.

He also said the sentence felt like it was just to appease President Rodrigo Duterte, after he ordered the total deployment ban to Kuwait.

"Although we really appreciate the decision of Kuwait because it is sweet and swift justice for Demafelis, para bang kinakalma 'yung isipan ng tao [it feels like it's to pacify] because of this crisis going on," he said.

The lawmaker also noted the Philippines should not lift the ban anytime soon.

"Partial-lift we can consider for those skilled workers, but definitely if Kuwait government is just doing this for their self-interest so that we can send workers again to the country, I think this is really not a good gesture," he said.

Bertiz said there should be a task force monitoring Demafelis' case - which would involve the DFA, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) in the Philippines.

Interpol-Lebanon earlier released the details on Assaf being under Lebanese custody.

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevara said Tuesday that Duterte has ordered DFA, through the official mission to Kuwait, to verify reports that Assaf will face death penalty.

Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona were found guilty of murder in the death of 29-year-old Demafelis, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello. Her body was found inside a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait, where it may have been kept for over a year.

Source: CNN, April 4, 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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