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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…

Louisiana: Both sides quote Bible in death penalty debate as effort to abolish dies

Louisiana's death row
BATON ROUGE — A House committee killed a bill to repeal the death penalty here Wednesday, likely ending efforts to abolish the ultimate punishment for another year despite a duplicate bill still alive in the Senate.

Members of the House Criminal Justice Committee voted 10-8 to defer House Bill 162 by Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, with both sides quoting the Bible to support their positions.

Though Senate Bill 51 by Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, earned a favorable committee vote Tuesday, he is unlikely to move forward knowing his bill would have to go through House Criminal Justice if it won full Senate approval.

"I'll have to reevaluate for sure," Morrell said in a text to USA Today Network. "I certainly would take the House vote into account when deciding what to do."

Landry, former leader of the State Police, said what has become an annual effort to abolish the death penalty is his most important legislation "because it literally decides life and death."

"The death sentence is barbaric and inhumane," he testified when presenting his bill.

Landry was supported by faith leaders and defense attorneys who cited the sanctity of all life and the inexact administration of justice that has led to some death sentences being overturned.

"This bill has the unified and unwavering support of every bishop in Louisiana," said Robert Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Bishops.

On Tuesday in the Senate, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, representing the conference, said, "“The Catholic Church considers the death penalty an offense against the sanctity of life.”

Both prosecutors and the majority of the committee said the death penalty is appropriate for the most heinous crimes and a valuable tool in prosecuting criminals.

"I've sat with family members who have lost their children; I've held the hand of a widow whose police officer husband was murdered in the line of duty," said Loren Lampert, a prosecutor in the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney's office.

"This is about standing for victims of the most heinous crimes," he said.

Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, said he rejected the testifying clergy's argument that someone who is against abortion should support abolishing the death penalty.

"When you take the (death penalty) off the table it degrades the lives taken," Crews said. "We're spending all of this effort on this bill when two people have been (executed) since 2000 and 25 are being killed today in abortion clinics."

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, is a minister who said the death penalty "is a Biblical precept from beginning to end."

But those supporting Landry's bill disagreed.

"I believe it's the business of God to take lives, not ours," said Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport.

And some shared the sentiment of Rep. Joe Marino, Independent-Gretna.

"I just can't get past the fact we might execute and innocent person," Marino said.

Source: USA Today, Greg Hilburn, April 11, 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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