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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…

India: President Kovind Rejects First Mercy Plea Placed Before Him

Ram Nath Kovind
President Ram Nath Kovind* rejected the first ever mercy plea placed before him from murder convict Jagat Rai, who along with two others, was convicted for the murder of a man, his wife, and their five minor children by burning them alive while they were sleeping in their house.

As is the norm for a mercy plea to the President, the case was placed before President Kovind after the Supreme Court rejected the convict's plea for mercy five years back.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the then Chief Justice of India HL Dattu, Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya, and Justice M Y Eqbal, while sentencing Jagat Rai and one other accused, Deepak Rai, to death, observed:

"The crime, enormous in proportion having wiped off the whole family, is committed so brutally that it pricks and shocks not only the judicial conscience but even the collective conscience of the society. It demands just punishment from the Court and the Court is bound to respond within legal parameters." -- Excerpt from the order of the Supreme Court in 2013

According to the prosecution in the case, the motive for the murder was revenge for an FIR filed against the convicts, by the man (whose family was killed), for alleged buffalo theft.

"They are a perfect example of blood-thirsty, scheming and hardened criminals who slayed seven innocent lives to quench their thirst for revenge and such revenge evolving out of a fellow citizens’ refusal to abstain from resorting to machinery of law to protect his rights." -- Excerpt from the order of the Supreme Court in 2013

The court had added that the brutal and shocking nature of the incident had shocked the collective conscience of the community, and that the heinous nature of the crime far outweighs the mitigating circumstances, placing the crime within the ambit of the “rarest of rare.”

"They do not deserve any mercy and they deserve death sentence."-- Excerpt from the order of the Supreme Court in 2013

The court had also commuted the sentence of the third accused to life imprisonment, stating that:

"The truth is that some crimes are so outrageous that society insists on adequate punishment, because the wrong doer deserves it, irrespective of whether it is a deterrent or not." --  Excerpt from the order of the Supreme Court in 2013

* Ram Nath Kovind is the 14th and current President of India, in office since 25 July 2017. Previously he had served as the Governor of Bihar from 2015 to 2017 and was a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha from 1994 to 2006.

Source: The Quint, May 30, 2018


President rejects mercy plea of man who burnt seven of a family to death


Supreme Court of India
Rai had burnt alive all family members of his rival, who filed a case of buffalo theft against him

Patna: Authorities in Bihar began preparations for hanging a man after President Ram Nath Kovind rejected the mercy plea of a death row convict.

The convict faces death for burning alive seven members of a family by locking them inside their home and setting it afire a decade ago.

The man identified as Jagat Rai, is currently lodged in the Shaheed Jubba Sahni Central Jail in Bhagalpur, an eastern Bihar town where the last hanging had taken place in 1996.

Now that the mercy plea has been turned down by the President, the court which handed down the death penalty will sign the death warrant, also known as “Black Warrant” mentioning the date and time of hanging, as per procedures.

Rai, a resident of Rampur-Shyampur village in Vaishali district, had burnt all the family members of his rival Bijendra Mahato to death just when the latter had registered a case against the former for stealing his buffalo. Rai threatened Mahato with dire consequences if he didn’t withdraw the case but the latter failed to pay heed to this threat.

On the fateful night of December 31, 2006 while Mahato along with his family members were sleeping in their thatched house, Rai along with others sprinkled inflammable liquid over the roof, locked the house from outside and set it on fire.

As the house went up in flames, Rai and his accomplices stood guard outside the house and didn’t allow the members to flee, resulting in the death of Mahato’s wife Baby Devi and their five children while Mahato succumbed to injuries after recording his statement before the police. Reports said although villagers watched the ghastly crime from their homes, none dared to come to the family’s rescue.

Soon after the incident, a local court sentenced the main accused to death after which he moved the Patna High Court but got no relief. Subsequently, Rai approached the Supreme Court in appeal but the top court too upheld the death sentence, terming it as a “rare of rare” case.

With all options running out, Rai later moved a mercy petition before the President but this too got finally rejected. This was the first mercy petition decided by Kovind after he took over as Indian President.

Source: Gulf News, Lata Rani, May 31, 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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