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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…

Guinea: "How I brought people together and called for Guinea to abolish the death penalty"

Souleymane Sow
Souleymane Sow, 43, is a man with a mission. He has been volunteering with Amnesty International since he was a student. Inspired to make a difference, he returned to Guinea, set up a local group of Amnesty International volunteers and got to work. Their aim? To promote the importance of human rights, educate people on these issues and abolish the death penalty. Along with 34 NGOs, they finally achieved their goal last year.

I've always been against the death penalty. So many people were killed during the 1st regime - just because of their politics. Seeing people who'd lost their parents made me want to take the fight for abolition further.

When I returned to Guinea, I formed a group of volunteers and we started educating people about human rights. Elections took place in 2015 and a new programme was launched, focusing on renewing all our laws in parliament.

I knew this was a key opportunity to speak out. I contacted Amnesty International's regional office in Dakar, to see how we could lobby against the death penalty. Once they were on board, we issued a statement about the changes we wanted to see.

Momentum was building and 34 other NGOs decided to join our mission to abolish the death penalty in Guinea. One by one, we arranged meetings with ministers and other deputies, explaining why this awful practice had to be abolished. I provided all the information they needed and we had open, honest discussions.

As the campaign ramped up, we made our voices heard. We distributed campaign materials, such as stickers and T-Shirts, calling for an end to the death penalty. I was invited to the Ministry of Justice to discuss the issue further, putting across my argument, with the aim of changing their mindset - it was so important to talk to people and explain why the death penalty needed to be abolished.

We listened to their ideas and questioned their reasoning, providing examples and arguments about why the death penalty didn't have a place in today's society.

My colleagues and I lobbied against the death penalty every day for 5 months. In 2016, Guinea's National Assembly voted in favour of a new criminal code which removed the death sentence from the list of applicable penalties. Last year, they did the same in the military court, too.

It was such an incredible achievement - and it showed the importance of people power. It was the 1st time so many NGOs had come together to campaign on an issue. People said they were happy with our work and they could see that change is possible.

Most of all, it inspired us to continue campaigning. There's still a lot of work to do in Guinea, but having seen the impact we can have, I know much more good can be achieved.

Source: Amnesty International, April 12, 2018. Souleymane Sow, Amnesty International volunteer, Guinea.


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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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