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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…

Former French Minister Robert Badinter Optimistic for End of Death Penalty

Former French Justice Minister R. Badinter
Under the patronage of HE Dr. Talal Abu-Ghalazeh, former French Minister of Justice HE Mr. Robert Badinter expressed his belief in the trend towards the universal abolishment of the death penalty.

In his seminar organized at the Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Knowledge Forum, Mr. Badinter spoke with passion and unwavering hope that "young students and a new generation will see universal abolition" of the death penalty.

He based his optimism in the evidence that more and more nations worldwide are moving towards abolition - in law, or in practice.

Beginning with a personal anecdote, Mr. Badinter outlined his commitment to abolition as stemming in large part from his experience as a defense lawyer for individuals sentenced to death. In his words, "to see a man who you have defended taken to the guillotine, a living man cut into pieces while alive - once you see that, it is decided forever."

Mr. Badinter moved next to analyze the overall trend towards abolition. He started with Europe, where "the situation is very simple: death penalty is banned in every state except one... [Belarus], which is the last Stalinist state in Europe." Mr. Badinter pointed out that it is no coincidence that the only state in Europe to allow executions is additionally the only non-member state of the Council of Europe. To join the European Council, Belarus is urged to interdict the death penalty as a prerequisite for membership.

But Europe wasn't always so opposed to the death penalty. "Let's be plain," said Mr. Badinter, "Europe has been a continent loaded with the worst crimes, especially in the Second World War." This bloody history is exactly what has turned Europe towards abolition, in a vow never to return to such barbarous ways.

Moving to the UN, Mr. Badinter underlined the moratorium against the death penalty, which has more support with each passing year. The moratorium supports abolition on the basis that the death penalty is inhumane, susceptible to error, and useless in combating crime.

Mr. Badinter focused especially on the latter two points, which he described as facts that, at their core, are not theological, philosophical, or moral matters. In every trial there is the question of judicial error, as "justice is human, and humans can always fail in their judgment." But the irreversible nature of execution unfortunately means that many exonerations awarded following a death sentence have been posthumous.

While discussing the third argument for abolition, which holds that capital punishment is necessarily ineffective at thwarting crime, Mr. Badinter brought in the example of the United States. The only country in the Americas to carry out executions in 2013, even the US is moving towards abolition, as "in the past 6 years, 6 states have given up the death penalty" lauded Mr. Badinter.

Additionally, he highlighted, those states that continue to practice the death penalty are mostly in the south, and were most notably those that wanted to keep slavery. From this point, Mr. Badinter identified three factors that affect whether or not an individual being tried in one of these states will be sent to death row: racism, which Mr. Badinter describes as "one of the worst poisons that can alter the human soul"; social inequality, as the strong defense that is needed in capital cases does not come cheap; and the "lottery which goes with justice", which includes a wide variety of external factors.

Thus, Mr. Badinter stressed, "all the poison of a society comes out in the decision to condemn to death penalty", which is visible in the disproportional assignment of the death penalty to black males as opposed to white males in the US.

In the Q&A period, HE Mr. Sufyan al-Hassan, Director of Research and Information for Jordan's House of Representatives, brought up a conundrum currently facing the members of parliament: the Constitution of 1946 clearly states that Jordan is a country whose religion is Islam, meaning that it cannot issue laws contrary to Islamic Sharia law, which supports the death penalty in certain, severe cases.

To this, Mr. al-Hassan suggested the "universal abolishment of the execution of the death penalty", the same view held by HE Dr. Abu-Ghazaleh, who stated in the seminar's opening that "being in prison forever is like a death sentence, with the label on your head that you should die - and that is enough."

On a similar note, Mr. Badinter concluded his presentation with a last appeal for abolition: "We are all sentenced to death, all of us; it is only a question of time. Therefore we do not have to take the place of fate or of God."

Source: AG-IP news, June 12, 2014

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