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"How do you defend THOSE people?" It's probably one of the most common questions criminal defense attorneys get asked. My answer? THOSE people are your friends and your family members, and maybe even you... Although I sincerely hope the best for you all, some of you may drive a little to fast, drink a little too much, lose your temper or make a mistake and anyone, on any day, can be accused of committing a crime they didn't commit. This compelling article emphasizes that very idea. It is an amazing story-- about a man accused of a brutal crime he didn't commit, a woman who would go to any lengths to gain custody of her child, and a police officer who acted with the utmost of integrity to bring the truth to light:
[http://www.amyguerra.com] The title of this blog comes from a New Yorker article by the same name. The article, subtitled "Did Texas execute an innocent man?" tells the sad, but enthralling story of Cameron Todd Williams, a death-row inmate put to death in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three children. Mr. Williams' case gives insight into how a culmination of factors can either convict or absolve a person, depending on the interpretation.
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.
Another portion of the article touched on the troubling nature of Mr. Willingham's representation, which was upheld despite his claims that hi. In the context of the article's discussion of alternative explanations for the fire, a quote from Willingham's own attorney stood out:
“All the evidence showed that he was one hundred percent guilty. He poured accelerant all over the house and put lighter fluid under the kids’ beds.” It was, he said, “a classic arson case”: there were “puddle patterns all over the place—no disputing those.”
Willingham often told his parents, “You don’t know what it’s like to have lawyers who won’t even believe you’re innocent.” Like many inmates on death row, Willingham eventually filed a claim of inadequate legal representation. (When I recently asked Martin about his representation of Willingham, he said, “There were no grounds for reversal, and the verdict was absolutely the right one.” He said of the case, “Shit, it’s incredible that anyone’s even thinking about it.”)
Cameron Todd Willingham, Texas, and the death penalty : The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann#ixzz0k9BdLs7k
On March 2nd, 2010, the Fresno County Grand Jury, a group of citizens appointed to investigate civil matters, released a report about the County Coroner's ruling of a Fresno woman's death as a suicide. Among their multiple concerns:
*Significant discrepancies in police reports
*Unfiled police reports
Although it does not garner the same public concern, defense attorneys all over the nation deal with these type of scenarios on a daily basis. However alarming it may be, this type of scenario is commonplace within our justice system. This report demonstrates the importance of objective and thorough investigation.
Imagine the opposite situation-- what if after only two hours of investigation, mounting evidence supporting the contrary, the coroner concluded foul play was present and someone was charged with a capital offense? What if because of a conclusory investigation, a Coroner overlooked a suicide note, or a bottle of prescription medicine, or anything else that indicated that a wound was self-inflicted? Investigation designed to confirm the suspicions of an individual investigator/officer, rather than to seek the truth objectively is always going to be problematic.
It is my hope that this report serves to enlighten the public regarding some of the problems inherent in the system-- particularly the damage that "jumping to conclusions" can have on the lives of both victims and those charged with a crime.
Fresno County Grand Jury Report, dated March 2nd, 2010
"Report Assails Conclusions in Fresno Woman's Death"
About the Author
Amy K. Guerra is a criminal defense attorney in Fresno, CA. In addition to her career in criminal defense, she's worked as a freelance writer and within the non-profit sector. She continues to be active in the community and enjoys writing about issues in criminal law relative to their community impact.
How to find us...
Amy K. Guerra, Attorney at Law
2014 Tulare St. #400
Fresno, CA. 93721
Copyright 2010, Amy K. Guerra, Esq. All Rights Reserved