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…

Spring 2019 “Death Row USA” Documents Further Shrinking of U.S. Death-Row Population

Dismantling California's death chamber
The number of people on death row or facing capital resentencing in the United States has continued its 19-year decline, according to a new death-row census by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund(LDF). 

The Spring 2019 edition of Death Row USA, released in early July, reports that 2,673 people in 32 states or in U.S. federal or military custody were on death rows across the U.S. as of April 1, 2019. 

That total reflects a 2.6% drop from the same time in 2018 and an 18.6% decline over the course of the past decade. The decline has come at a time in which executions remain near historic lows, as more people have been resentenced to life or less or come off of death row by exoneration, clemency, or deaths other than by execution than have been added to death row through new death sentences. 

Nearly 1,000 prisoners have come off death row in the past decade by means other than execution, nearly tripling the 337 executions over that same period.

LDF includes in its total 230 people who have overturned their convictions or sentences in the courts but still face the possibility of having their sentences reinstated on appeal or reimposed after new trial or sentencing proceedings. 

The other 2,443 people in the death-row census face active death sentences, continuing the decline in the number of prisoners in current jeopardy of execution. April 2018 was the first time in more than a quarter century that the number of active death sentences fell below 2,500.

For the first time, the LDF census offered a count of individuals on death rows in states with moratoria on executions (California, Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania). 

Death Row USA reports that 923 people, or 34.5% of all U.S. death-row prisoners, are in these states. 

Excluding these states and the individuals whose convictions or death sentences have been overturned, 1,570 death-row prisoners in the United States have what LDF describes as “enforceable sentences.”

California’s death row remains the largest in the nation, with 733 prisoners. Florida (349), Texas (225), Alabama (181), and Pennsylvania (155) are also among the five largest state death rows. 

Nationwide, the death row population is about 42% white, 42% black, 13% Latino/a, 2% Asian, and 1% Native American. 

Among states with at least 10 prisoners, the highest percentages of racial and ethnic minorities were in Nebraska (75%), Texas (73%), and Louisiana (71%). 

Just 2% of all death-row prisoners are women.

SOURCES: Death Row, USA: Spring 2019, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, April 1, 2019.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center, Staff, July 10, 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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