FEATURED POST

Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

Image
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…

Supporters, opponents argue over New Hampshire death penalty repeal bill

Prison cell
Murdered children from Concord and Hopkinton came into play Wednesday as a House committee heard from supporters and opponents of a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty.

A House committee considering a proposal to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty heard about the murders of children from supporters and opponents of the bill on Wednesday.

The bill before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee would change the penalty for capital murder to life in prison without parole. It passed the Senate this month, but Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has said he’ll veto it.

Franklin police Chief David Goldstein, representing the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, described the 1991 murders of a Concord woman and her three young daughters. James Colbert, who initially pleaded insanity but then blamed himself for strangling his wife and smothering the girls – ages 2½ years, 1½ years and 10 weeks – is serving four life sentences.

“I want you to think about that for a second – the terror that 1-and-a-half-year-old had for that very short time as she looked in the eyes of her father as he killed her,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein said he opposes repeal even though in a later interview Colbert told him neither he nor his fellow inmates gave any thought to possible punishments when they committed their crimes. He argued the death penalty is necessary for crimes that amount to an assault on the community.

“If we think the death penalty is a deterrent, it really is not,” he said. “However, we do have a responsibility.”

Barbara Keshen, head of the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, described the wrongful arrest of a man in the 1997 rape and murder of a Hopkinton girl to argue in favor of repeal. As a public defender, Keshen represented James Buchanan, who was charged with killing Elizabeth Knapp before DNA evidence led to another man. She also spent years as a state prosecutor, and while she praised New Hampshire’s legal and law enforcement communities she said mistakes happened every day.

“If you don’t believe we are capable of making mistakes, you are either hopelessly naive about the criminal justice system or you are dangerously arrogant,” she said.

New Hampshire’s death penalty applies to a relatively narrow list of crimes, including the murders of police officers, judges or prosecutors or killings during kidnappings, robberies or rape. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, though one person is on death row.

The repeal bill wouldn’t apply to Michael Addison, who was convicted of murder in the death of Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006, but opponents argued it’s possible courts could see it differently. Addison, in his appeals, argued the death sentence was out of line based on similar cases nationwide.

Attorney Chuck Douglas of Bow, a former state representative who helped draft the law, told the committee that the prospective repeal of death penalty laws in other states has led to commutation of death sentences during the appeals process.

Douglas, who said he believes the death penalty should be expanded to include killings related to hate crimes, also argued that the death penalty does serve as a deterrent. He noted that Florida authorities plan to seek the death penalty against Michael Woodbury, who pleaded guilty in the 2007 murders of three men in Conway who was recently accused in the beating death of his cellmate in that state.

“There is no greater deterrent for this man than the ultimate penalty,” he said. “He has not been rehabilitated; he has not apologized; he has not learned.”

But Margaret Hawthorn, whose daughter Molly MacDougall was shot to death in 2010, told the committee that putting the killer to death would not have helped her heal. She said the best outcome instead would be seeing him do something positive with his life.

“To see him do something constructive would be to give me back a tiny piece of the goodness that lived in my daughter,” she said. “There is no promise this will happen, but an execution would guarantee it couldn’t.”

The last time the House and the Senate voted to repeal the death penalty was 2000, but the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat. More recently, the House passed a bill in 2014, but it died in the Senate, and the Senate deadlocked on a bill in 2016.

Source: The Associated Press, Holly Ramer, April 4, 2018


⚑ | Report an error, an omission, a typo; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; submit a piece, a comment; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!



"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

New Hampshire: Just two votes away from death penalty repeal

Lindsay Sandiford, 62, on Bali death row for 6 years, 'just wants to die'

Florida executes Bobby Joe Long

Oklahoma 'getting closer' to acquiring device necessary to carry out executions

Indonesian court sentences French drug smuggler to death

Florida: Death penalty opponents call on DeSantis to stop execution

Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

Malaysian drug mule due to hang in Singapore gets last-minute stay of execution

Japan: Death sentence finalized for man over 2015 murder of 2 children

Singapore says most drug traffickers Malaysians, will not go easy on them