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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…

Execution date sought for Nebraska's longest-serving death row inmate

Carey Dean Moore
LINCOLN — Nebraska took another step toward bringing back the death penalty Tuesday by seeking an execution date for condemned killer Carey Dean Moore.

Attorney General Doug Peterson filed a motion with the Nebraska Supreme Court seeking a death warrant for Moore, 60, the longest-serving inmate on death row. The legal filing says a date of execution must be set no later than 60 days after the court issues a death warrant.

The motion also states that Moore has no pending appeals or stays of execution in state or federal courts. In recent months, Moore has declined to be named in a new round of legal challenges filed by death penalty opponents.

“The State of Nebraska has a constitutionally acceptable method of carrying out Moore’s death sentences by lethal injection,” said the motion, which was co-filed by State Solicitor General James Smith.

Last year, Nebraska prison officials obtained four drugs that they intend to use for the execution. The drug combination has never been used in an execution, and state officials have refused to identify their supplier.

A leading death penalty opponent on Tuesday condemned the “rush toward an execution,” given that there are several pending legal and administrative challenges of an execution protocol that the state amended last year.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, said Moore’s decision to “stop fighting at this juncture” heightens the need to allow the death penalty challenges to play out. Among other things, the ACLU has alleged that Nebraska officials misled federal authorities in obtaining the lethal injection drugs.

“Holding a lawless execution would greatly diminish our state,” she said.

Moore shot and killed Omaha cab drivers Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland in the summer of 1979. Over the years, he has said he took the lives of the men to steal money for drugs and because he wanted to prove that he could kill.

Helgeland and Van Ness were both 47-year-old fathers and military veterans.

If the execution takes place, it will mark the first time Nebraska has used lethal injection to put an inmate to death. The state’s method was the electric chair in 1997, when the last execution took place.

Moore has evaded execution multiple times during his 38 years on death row. The Supreme Court last set an execution date for him in 2011, but withdrew the death warrant after Moore’s attorney challenged how Nebraska authorities had obtained the drugs it intended to use.

It’s unclear whether he currently has legal representation.

Lincoln attorney Alan Peterson, who has represented Moore in the past, said his former client has a request for a commutation hearing pending before the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Such a hearing would give Moore the opportunity to ask for his death sentence to be reduced, most likely to a life term.

The Pardons Board, made up of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, does not have to grant a hearing. Peterson and Gov. Pete Ricketts are strong supporters of the death penalty.

Nebraska prison officials notified Moore in January that the Corrections Department had obtained supplies of four lethal injection drugs it intends to use to execute him.

The ACLU last week filed a lawsuit challenging the execution protocol that would be used. State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha also has filed an administrative complaint in the Legislature that challenges how the Ricketts administration established the new protocol.

In addition, the ACLU has alleged that Nebraska officials misled federal authorities in obtaining the lethal substances last year. The organization has asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to launch an investigation into possible violations by prison officials.

A DEA spokesman recently confirmed that the agency had received the ACLU’s allegations, but he declined to say whether an investigation was underway.

Nebraska officials revealed they had obtained the drugs in November when they gave formal notice to death-row inmate Jose Sandoval. But since then, Sandoval has filed a post-conviction motion challenging his death sentence, and the attorney general has not yet sought a death warrant.

In 2015, the Legislature voted to repeal the death penalty, overriding the governor’s veto to do so.

Ricketts then helped lead and fund a petition drive that put the issue on the ballot in 2016, when 61 percent of voters decided to restore capital punishment.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, Joe Duggan, April 3, 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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