[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, CONN., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Dec 13 15:07:33 CST 2004
URGENT ACTION APPEAL UPDATE
Note: Please write on this case even though you may not have received the
original UA when issued on February 6, 2004. Thanks!
13 December 2004
Further information on UA 44/04 issued 6 February 2004 and re-issued 18
February 2004------Death penalty
USA (Texas) Cameron Todd Willingham (m), aged 36
A journalistic investigation into the murder conviction of Cameron
Willingham, who was executed in February, has produced new evidence that
the case against him was seriously flawed.
Cameron Willingham was convicted in August 1992 of the arson murders of
his three young children, Amber Kuykendall, Karmon Willingham and Kameron
Willingham. The three died of smoke inhalation in a house fire on 23
December 1991. Cameron Willingham escaped the fire.
Cameron Willingham was executed in Texas on 17 February 2004. The Texas
Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against clemency, and Governor Rick
Perry refused to intervene. In his final statement before being executed,
Cameron Willingham said: ''The only statement I want to make is that I am
an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been
persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.''
In an article published on 9 December 2004, the Chicago Tribune, whose
investigations of the flaws in Illinois's capital justice system were
cited by former Governor George Ryan when he commuted the death sentences
of all on Illinois' death row in January 2003, revealed that it had asked
four fire experts to review the case. The four concluded that the
investigation into the Willingham's house fire had been seriously flawed
and had used techniques which have since fallen into disrepute. They
concluded that the fire may have been accidental.
One of the experts said: ''There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable
arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire''.
Another said that it ''made him sick to think this guy was executed based
on this investigation... They executed this guy and they've just got no
idea - at least not scientifically - if he set the fire, or if the fire
was even intentionally set''. Another said: ''There was no evidence to
support a conclusion that the fire was intentionally set.'' One of the
jurors from the original trial, after learning of the new evidence, said:
''Did anybody know about this prior to his execution? Now I will have to
live with this for the rest of my life. Maybe this man was innocent.''
Prior to his 1992 trial, Cameron Willingham had turned down a life prison
sentence in return for a guilty plea because he said he was innocent. At
the trial, the state presented evidence that he had confessed to another
jail inmate that he had set the fire, and evidence that he had not tried
hard enough to rescue his children. Among the state's ''scientific''
evidence of arson was that of ''crazed glass'' in the house. This was
presented as an indicator that the fire had become especially hot as a
result of an accelerant being applied. However, it has since been shown
that ''crazed glass'' can be created as a result of hot glass being
sprayed with water when the fire is being put out. The four experts called
other aspects of the investigation into question.
On 6 October 2004, Ernest Ray Willis was released after 17 years on death
row in Texas. He was sentenced to death in 1987 for the 1986 murder of two
women who died in a house fire that was ruled to have been arson. After a
court granted Willis a new trial in 2004, the county prosecutor hired an
arson specialist to review the original evidence. The expert, one of those
now saying that the Willingham arson evidence is unsafe, concluded that
there was no evidence of arson, and that the ''accelerant'' initially
suspected of causing the fire was in fact ''flashover burning,''
consistent with electrical fault fires. The prosecutor dropped all
charges, saying that Willis ''simply did not do the crime... I'm sorry
this man was on death row for so long and that there were so many lost
Texas accounts for 336 of the 944 executions carried out in the USA since
1977. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases,
regardless of guilt or innocence. Since 1973, 117 people have been
released from US death rows after evidence of their innocence emerged.
Others have gone to their deaths despite serious doubts about their guilt.
FURTHER RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as
possible, in your own words, including Willingham's former prisoner number
#999041 in your appeals:
- expressing deep regret at the execution of Cameron Willingham on 17
- noting new evidence that Cameron Willingham was convicted on the basis
of a seriously flawed fire investigation, and that four arson experts have
concluded that the house fire could have been accidental;
- noting the case of Ernest Willis, and that Cameron Willingham had
consistently maintained his innocence, including in his final statement
before being killed by the state;
- calling for a full independent inquiry into this case, and for the
results to be made public;
- calling on the addressees to support a moratorium on executions in
Governor Rick Perry, Office of the Governor, PO Box 12428,
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: 1 512 463 1849. Salutation: Dear Governor
The Honorable Greg Abbott, Attorney General, PO Box 12548,
Austin, TX 78711-2548
Email: greg.abbott at oag.state.tx.us Fax: 1 512 475 2994
Salutation: Dear Attorney General
If you have the capacity, you may also send letters to:
Rissie Owens, Presiding Officer, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 1300 11th
St., Suite 520, P.O. Box 599, Huntsville, TX 77342-0599 Fax: 1 936 291
8367, Salutation: Dear Ms Owens
Elvis Hightower, Board Member, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 1300 11th
St., Suite 520, P.O. Box 599, Huntsville, TX 77342-0599 Fax: 1 936 291
8367, Salutation: Dear Mr Hightower
Charles Aycock, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 5809 S. Western, Suite 237,
Amarillo, TX 79110 Fax: 1 806 358 6455, Salutation: Dear Mr Aycock
Linda Garcia, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 1212 N. Velasco, Suite 201,
Angleton, TX 77515 Fax: 1 979 849 8741, Salutation: Dear Ms Garcia
Juanita Gonzalez, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 3408 S. State Hwy. 36,
Gatesville, TX 76528 Fax: 1 254 865 2629, Salutation: Dear Ms Gonzalez
Jose L. Aliseda, Board of Pardons and Paroles, 1111 West Lacy St.,
Palestine, TX 75801 Fax: 1 903 723 1441, Salutation: Dear Mr Aliseda
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement that promotes and
defends human rights.
This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including contact
information and stop action date (if applicable). Thank you for your help
with this appeal.
Urgent Action Network
Amnesty International USA
PO Box 1270
Nederland CO 80466-1270
Email: uan at aiusa.org
Phone: 303 258 1170
Fax: 303 258 7881
END OF URGENT ACTION APPEAL
Ross Circus Returns For Another Run
One of the more active opponents of capital punishment became quite worked
up last week when Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she would not postpone the
execution of Michael Ross on Jan. 26 and would veto any attempt by the
state legislature to overthrow the death penalty.
Robert Nave, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the
Death Penalty, feels Rell should be "on site" and even "push the button"
to off Ross by lethal injection if she really believes the execution is
good public policy.
Nave had other arguments to support a position shared by many. Still, he
might have had another perspective had he been "on site" when Ross
strangled 4 teenage girls (2 were only 14) in eastern Connecticut, raping
3 of the victims, and raped and strangled 2 women in Windham County.
It is was hardly unanticipated, of course, that a noisy controversy would
develop as time grew short, presumably, for this serial killer who several
decades ago confessed to his ghastly crimes. And lest we forget, he also
mentioned - perhaps to make sure there would be no loose ends because he
is a most exact fellow - that he also murdered two other women in New
A television reporter seemed amazed at the clamor, calling it "a circus"
that all but popped up overnight. One wonders where he has been because
this is simply just more of the same circus that has always surrounded a
vicious murderer who became a household name long ago and has played the
legal system with skills that would be the envy of many law school
Why, he even wowed everyone in New London Superior Court last Thursday,
including his attorney and a prosecutor, with his in-depth knowledge of
the fine points of Connecticut's death-penalty statutes while trying to
prove his competence to prevent the court from putting a hold on his date
with the needle.
It is not everyday that someone on death row goes to court to complain
about the delay. But Ross has been complaining for years, during endless
appeals and hearings, although some say he should receive an award for
Out of perverse curiosity, I once went to New London Superior Court during
one of the early appearances there by Ross to see how he acted. This was
when stories about him were horrifying the nation, but my initial
impression was that he seemed so ordinary that he might have been the last
person picked out of a crowd as the vicious destroyer of young lives. Talk
about the banality of evil.
Yet, he coolly paid attention to the proceedings in the alert manner of a
defense attorney ready to object in a flash to the testimony of a
prosecution witness. It was obvious that the state would be traveling a
long and bumpy road with him. But nobody could believe how long and bumpy
it would be until Ross decided he had paraded on it long enough.
Ross' scheduled appointment with the eternity to which he sent his victims
well before their time has resulted in editorials in numerous newspapers
calling execution virtually extinct in New England because it has not been
carried out here since 1960, when Joe Taborski, the so-called "Mad Dog
Killer," went to his reward in Connecticut. A familiar argument was put
forward last Tuesday in an editorial in The Hartford Courant:
"Keeping those convicted of capital offenses behind bars for the rest of
their lives is, in some respects, the harshest punishment of all."
For some, or maybe just a few, that is probably true. But with the
exception of Ross, none of the other prisoners sentenced to death in
Connecticut have been clamoring to get on with it.
(source: The Day)
Murder total drops 6% in first half of year
The number of murders dropped by nearly 6 % in the 1st half of 2004, an
indication that a 4-year climb may be ending, the FBI reported today.
Preliminary figures provided to the FBI by more than 10,700 state and
local police agencies show that overall violent crime was down 2 % from
January to June of this year compared with the first 6 months of 2003.
Violent crime includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Among those crimes, the number of murders dropped the most at 5.7 %,
followed by robbery (5 %) and aggravated assault (1 %). Rapes increased
1.4 % nationwide, though the increase was greater -- 6.5 % -- in cities
with populations of 1 million or more, according to the FBI.
The national crime rate has dropped to record lows in recent years but the
number of homicides has been rising steadily. After reaching a low point
in 1999 of about 15,500 homicides, the number crept up to more than 16,500
in 2003, or almost 6 murders for every 100,000 U.S. residents.
That was a 1.7 % increase from 2002 and a jump of more than 6 % since
1999. Still, the latest figure was 29 percent lower than the homicides in
The latest FBI report does not include raw totals for categories of
crimes, only percentages of increase or decrease compared to the 1st half
of 2003. The final report for all of 2004 will be released next fall.
The preliminary figures show a 1.9 percent decline in the property crimes
of burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft during the 1st 6 months of
2004. In addition, the FBI said arson was down by 6.8 % from January to
(source : Associated Press)
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