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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…

Tennessee Governor Denies Clemency for Don Johnson

Don Johnson
Johnson will be executed by lethal injection on Thursday, May 16, 2019

Gov. Bill Lee has denied Don Johnson’s request for clemency, and will not intervene to stop Johnson’s execution on Thursday.

“After a prayerful and deliberate consideration of Don Johnson‘s request for clemency, and after a thorough review of the case, I am upholding the sentence of the State of Tennessee and will not be intervening," Lee said in a written statement.

Johnson was convicted in 1985 for the murder of his wife, Connie Johnson. But Connie's daughter, Cynthia Vaughn, is now pleading for the governor to grant him clemency. The two reconciled in 2012. Johnson's request for clemency focused on his Christian faith and what his lawyers call a "remarkable transformation" over the course of more than 30 years in prison. He was baptized on death row and ordained as an elder in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. 

Johnson's supporters have been appealing to the governor on the basis of his own Christian faith, which was a prominent part of his gubernatorial campaign last year.

RELATED U.S. Supreme Court declines to stop Don Johnson’s execution

Johnson will die by a three-drug lethal injection protocol that has been at the center of a legal battle for more than a year. Leading anesthesiologist Dr. David Lubarsky said last year that, based on witness accounts, he concluded “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty” that Billy Ray Irick experienced “torturous” pain when he was killed using the three-drug protocol in August. Lubarsky said that Irick was “aware and sensate during his execution and would have experienced the feeling of choking, drowning in his own fluids, suffocating, being buried alive, and the burning sensation caused by the injection of the potassium chloride.” 

Rev. Charles Fels, one of the attorneys representing Johnson, released a statement on behalf of the clemency team: 

Don Johnson has shown he is a person who is deserving of mercy. Although we appreciate Governor Lee and his staff for carefully considering our application for clemency for Don, we, along with thousands of Christians in Tennessee and around the world, are deeply saddened by today’s decision. Also disappointed are thousands of citizens who had hoped that Governor Lee would use his unique constitutional clemency power to consider matters that no court could, including moral transformation, forgiveness, and the entire positive arc of Don’s life after 1984. 

We respect the Governor’s decision, and Don accepts it as God’s will.

Don is at peace and accepts the call to a new life in Christ. He prays for the Governor, the Warden and his staff, Connie, Cynthia and Jason and for all those who he has injured in the past. Don gives thanks to the many Christian friends who have supported him for many decades. He gives particular thanks to the pastors and people of Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church who ordained, supported and loved him in his journey, and to the Dysinger family who have been with him in song and in prayer for the past 15 years.  Don’s faith is strong, and he knows where his journey leads.

Johnson answered questions from the Scene earlier this month. 

"I am too blessed to be stressed," he said when asked how we was feeling as his execution date approached. "I take each day one day at a time. I am at peace. I have surrendered to Him. My routine is a little busier, because of more attorney visits, but otherwise it is the same as it has been for years. I still start each morning in prayer and every day I set time aside for Bible study."

He said he is not afraid of his execution. 

"I place my life in the Lord’s hands. I accept whatever he allows to happen."

Source: nashvillescene.com, Steven Hale, May 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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