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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…

UN human rights office welcomes California moratorium on death penalty

Dismantling California's death chamber
“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people.” - Governor Newsom

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has welcomed the signing of an executive order by the Governor of California, in the United States, to impose a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty, which grants a reprieve to 737 inmates, up to end of his term in office.

According to news reports, although the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, California’s death row holds the highest number of prisoners, more than a quarter of the country’s total, and six out of 10 of them are people of colour.

OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado, said in a statement to journalists that the executive order “consolidates a trend in the US towards the eradication of the death penalty – in law or in practice – over the last decades,” as 20 US states have already abolished it. California now joins three other states whose Governors have put an executive hold on executions.

RELATEDPhotos: California's Death Chamber Dismantled!

However, the order can only prevent sentences from being carried out, but the law still empowers prosecutors to request capital punishment, and allows judges to sentence convicted prisoners to death.

“We hope this moratorium will encourage other states to follow suit, and be followed by a complete abolition of capital punishment at the state and federal level,” Ms. Hurtado added, stressing that with this decision, “California joins the international trend towards the reduction and eventual abolition of the death penalty.”

RELATED | Is this the end of the death penalty in California? 

The decision of the California Governor, Gavin Newsom, comes after the states’ voters rejected attempts to abolish capital punishment and approved in 2016 a ballot measure to actually speed up executions.

In a public statement, Mr. Newsom said “I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” adding that the death penalty was “inconsistent” with the “bedrock values and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Californian.”

The Governor cited a report estimating that 1 in every 25 people on death row is innocent. "If that's the case, that means if we move forward executing 737 people in California, we will have executed roughly 30 people that are innocent", Mr. Newsom said. "I don't know about you. I can't sign my name to that. I can't be party to that. I won't be able to sleep at night."

Source: news.un.org, Staff, March 14, 2019


California Bishops Praise Moratorium on Death Penalty


Governor Gavin Newsom
Planned executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom has been hailed as a positive step by California’s bishops.

LOS ANGELES — The imposition of a state moratorium on the use of the death penalty by Gov. Gavin Newsom was hailed as a positive step by California’s bishops Wednesday. But the state’s Catholic leaders cautioned the state’s criminal-justice system is still in need of reform.

Newsom announced March 12 that he would issue an executive order to remove the state’s lethal-injection protocol and close the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison. The moratorium will not result in anyone being released from prison or pardoned.

“This is a good day for California and a good day for our country,” said Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles in a statement. Archbishop Gomez said that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it provide “true justice” to those who were victims of crime.

Archbishop Gomez, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has long called for an end to capital punishment throughout the United States.

In his statement, Archbishop Gomez said that he believed the moral arguments for ending the death penalty were clear.

“Every human life is precious and sacred in the eyes of God, and every person has a dignity that comes from God. This is true for the innocent, and it is true for the guilty. It is true even for those who commit grave evil and are convicted of the most cruel and violent crimes,” he said.

In the executive order, issued Wednesday, Newsom said that the death penalty was costly, ineffective and racially biased in its application.

Archbishop Gomez agreed with these claims and said that he hopes action will be taken to “address the inequities in our criminal-justice system, to improve conditions in our prisons, and to provide alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crimes,” as well as to properly rehabilitate prisoners.

“Much more needs to be done in California to address social conditions that give rise to crime and violence in our communities,” said Archbishop Gomez.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco issued a statement March 13 on behalf of the California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s 26 bishops. Archbishop Cordileone welcomed an end to the death penalty in the state and expressed hope that the moratorium could be soon codified into law.

San Quentin State Prison is located in Archbishop Cordielone’s archdiocese.

The California bishops’ statement encouraged Newsom to “use well the time of the moratorium to promote civil dialogue on alternatives to the death penalty, including giving more needed attention and care to the victims of violence and their families.”

“Capital punishment is not a cure for the suffering and turmoil inflicted by violent crime; the restorative healing of victims and their families to the extent possible is an essential part of justice.”

California’s last execution was on Jan. 17, 2006. Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was put to death by lethal injection for arranging the 1980 murders of Bryon Schletewitz, 27, Douglas Scott White, 18, and Josephine Linda Rocha, 17, while Allen was already serving a life sentence for murder.

There are 737 people on death row in California, the largest death-row pool in the country and comprising nearly one-quarter of the total number of condemned prisoners in the United States. California has not conducted an execution in over a decade due to a lack of availability of the drugs needed for lethal injection.

Source: ncregister.com, Christine Rousselle/CNA, March 14, 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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