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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…

Pennsylvania man gets death penalty for rape, murder of girlfriend's 14-year-old daughter

Sara Packer, left, and Jacob Sullivan. Source: Associated Press
A man who killed and dismembered his girlfriend's 14-year-old daughter as part of a rape-murder fantasy he shared with the teenager's mother was sentenced to death on Friday.

Jacob Sullivan, 46, had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and related charges for killing Grace Packer in 2016.

After deliberating over parts of three days, a suburban Philadelphia jury imposed the death penalty. Sullivan had no reaction as the verdict was read. Pennsylvania has a moratorium on the death penalty, but juries can still impose the sentence.

"The butchery in this case was beyond my ability to describe," Bucks County Judge Diane Gibbons told jurors, thanking them for their service.

District Attorney Matthew Weintraub had asked the jury to send Sullivan to death row, reminding them that Grace's life "ended in a house of horrors that became a hell on Earth."

The defence asked for a life sentence, insisting that Grace's mother, Sara Packer, masterminded the gruesome plot and controlled Sullivan. Sara Packer, who testified last week and admitted to jurors she wanted her daughter dead and took part in the plot, is due to plead guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a life sentence.

Sullivan and Sara Packer took Grace to a sweltering attic and gave her what they intended to be a lethal overdose of medicine, authorities say. The couple bound her hands and feet with zip ties and stuffed a ball gag in her mouth, and Sullivan sexually assaulted her as Sara Packer watched.

The couple left Grace in the attic to die, but she managed to escape some of her bindings and spit the gag out, prosecutors say. Sullivan and Sara Packer returned to the vacant house 12 hours later, and Sullivan strangled her.

Sara Packer and Sullivan stored Grace's body in cat litter for months, then hacked it up and dumped it in a remote area where hunters found it in October 2016, authorities said.

Sara Packer and her husband at the time, David Packer, adopted Grace and Grace's younger brother in 2007. The couple cared for dozens of foster children before David Packer was sent to prison for sexually assaulting Grace and a 15-year-old foster daughter.

Sara Packer lost her job as a Northampton County adoptions supervisor in 2010 and was barred from taking in any more foster children. But child welfare authorities did not remove Grace from the home, despite evidence of abuse.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services launched an investigation after Grace's murder, but its findings have not been made public.

Pennsylvania last carried out an execution in 1999, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on capital punishment in 2015. There are 142 inmates on the state's death row.

Source: The Associated Press, March 27, 2019


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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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