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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Court lifts reprieve for Nicaraguan man on Texas death row

Texas' death house
Texas' death house
HOUSTON (AP) — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday lifted a reprieve it gave a Nicaraguan man a day before he was to be executed two years ago for killing a Houston high school teacher during a 1997 robbery.

The state's highest criminal appeals court had halted the scheduled August 2015 lethal injection of Bernardo Tercero after his attorneys contended Harris County prosecutors unknowingly presented false testimony from a witness at his trial in 2000 for the death of 38-year-old Robert Berger. Wednesday's ruling affirms the findings of Tercero's trial court that last year held a hearing on the claim and determined the testimony was proper.

Berger was a customer in a Houston dry cleaners shop in March 1997 and was with his 3-year-old daughter when records show Tercero came in to rob the store. Berger was fatally shot and the store was robbed of about $400. Prosecutors said Tercero was in the U.S. illegally at the time.

Tercero, now 40, argued the shooting was accidental. He testified Berger confronted him and tried to thwart the robbery, and the gun went off as they struggled. He was arrested in Hidalgo County near the Texas-Mexico border more than two years after the slaying. A second man sought in the case never has been found.

Tercero's case has attracted attention in his home country, where a clemency plea from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in 2015 was forwarded to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

In another case, the appeals court Wednesday denied an appeal from Bartholomew Granger, condemned for the slaying of a 79-year-old woman during a 2012 shooting rampage outside the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Attorneys for Granger, 46, raised 10 challenges to his 2013 conviction and death sentence. Five issues focused on claims his trial attorneys were deficient, four raised questions about the constitutionality of the death penalty in Texas and the last contended he was denied his right to an impartial jury.

At his trial, Granger, from Houston, testified under cross-examination that he wanted the death penalty. He was convicted of fatally shooting Minnie Ray Sebolt, a bystander walking outside the courthouse in downtown Beaumont. Granger admitted he opened fire on his daughter outside the courthouse after she testified against him in a sexual assault case. He said he didn't intend to kill Sebolt.

His daughter and her mother were among three people wounded.

In a third case, the appeals court refused an appeal from Charles Raby, 47, who was sent to death row in 1994 for killing a 72-year-old woman, Edna Mae Franklin, at her Houston home. The court said the appeal focusing on DNA testing was improperly filed and did not rule on the merits of the argument. In 2015, the court upheld a lower court finding that results of new DNA tests didn't cast doubt on Raby's conviction for Franklin's 1992 stabbing death.

The appeals court also sent back to a trial court in Bastrop County the lengthy case of Rodney Reed to review claims newly discovered evidence improperly was withheld and to show prosecutors presented false and misleading testimony at Reed's trial where he was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 abduction, rape and strangling of 19-year-old Stacy Stites. Her body was found off the side of a road about 35 miles (56.32 kilometers) southeast of Austin.

Last month, the appeals court refused to allow additional DNA testing of evidence in the case, saying the request was meant to "to unreasonably delay the execution of his sentence or the administration of justice."

Source: Houston Chronicle, Michael Craczyk, May 17, 2O17

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