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

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…

Bill to abolish Louisiana death penalty coming; California governor halts executions

Louisiana State Penitentiary
State Sen. Dan Claitor will file a bill to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana as debate heats up here and across the country with California Gov. Gavin Newsom halting executions and President Donald Trump firing off a tweet condemning "stone cold killers."

Louisiana’s own debate over the death penalty took center stage at the Capitol this week when Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry accused Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of stalling executions, a claim Edwards dismissed.

Claitor, a Republican from Baton Rouge, said he will file his bill this spring in partnership with state Rep. Terry Landry, an Acadiana Democrat who is the former head of the Louisiana State Police.

Claitor's and Landry's previous efforts have failed.

"(The death penalty) doesn't work, it's not a deterrent, it's prohibitively expensive, it cheapens life and it's morally wrong," Claitor said Wednesday morning in an interview with USA Today Network. "I know that there are those who disagree, and that's why we're having the debate.

"We can't lose sight of the victims' families, but their feelings aren't all the same, either. Not all families of victims have the desire to put someone to death in their loved one's name, though many do feel that way."

Newsom's executive order for a moratorium saves 737 people on death row for now in California, which has the largest condemned prisoner population in the nation.

Trump's early morning tweet said Newsom's actions are an insult to the victims.

"Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers," Trump tweeted. "Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!"

Death penalty hearing

In Louisiana, House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Sherman Mack, R-Albany, said he called Tuesday's death penalty hearing at Landry's request.

The hearing was weighted with families of murder victims seeking to have the death penalty carried out for their loved ones' killers.

There have been no executions of convicted death row inmates in Louisiana since 2010 because of the state's inability to procure it's preferred drug for lethal injection.

Neither Edwards nor his Secretary of Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc were invited to the hearing, prompting Democrats on the committees to call it a "set-up."

On Wednesday morning, Landry echoed Trump's sentiments in an interview with USA Today Network and took another shot at Edwards.

"I stand with the president in recognizing the victims' families have lost their voice and tacitly the governor of our state is doing the same thing as the governor of California, although our governor isn't being as honest. He's hiding behind excuses."

There were also no executions during the final term of former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

GOP Congressman Ralph Abraham of Alto, who is running for governor, said he would like to see convicted child molesters put to death as well as murderers.

"I stand with (Landry)," he said in a statement sent to USA Today Network. "Not only am I in favor of he death penalty, but I'm in favor of enforcing it. If you murder someone in Louisiana you should know that when caught, you will be put to death." 

'The drugs are not available'

Edwards, a devout Catholic, hasn't revealed his personal views about the death penalty, only that he will uphold the laws of the state.

"The fact of the matter is that we cannot execute someone in the state of Louisiana today because the only legally prescribed manner set forth in state statute is unavailable to us," Edwards said in a statement. "In the time since we last had this conversation, nothing has changed — the drugs are not available and legislation has not passed to address concerns of drug companies or offer alternative forms of execution.

"That's not through any fault of my own or the department of corrections. I'm not inclined to go back to methods that have been discarded because popular sentiment turned against them or maybe some methods that were deemed to be barbaric and so forth.”

Louisiana's next Legislative Session begins April 6.

Source: thenewsstar.com, Greg Hillburn, March 13, 2019. Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. 

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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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