Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 3rd, 2017

Mean-spirited and heartless: U.S. Senate votes to block California-led effort on retirement security for low-income workers

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The GOP really does not like poor people. Evan Halper reports in the LA Times:

A pioneering, California-led effort to create retirement security for low-income workers has been thrown into jeopardy after the U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to block states from starting programs to automatically enroll millions of people in IRA-type savings plans.

The measure, aimed at stopping the fledgling state retirement programs, now goes to President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

That leaves lawmakers in California, Illinois and other states who only months ago were celebrating the success of their long-planned initiative scrambling to regroup. The Senate voted 50 to 49 to stop the state plans.

The retirement programs that were about to launch in seven states and are under consideration in many more were targeted by Wall Street firms and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The vote reflected the renewed influence of the business lobby in Washington since the 2016 election, with lawmakers defying the 38-million member AARP, a vocal supporter of the auto-IRA program. The seniors group had warned senators that its members would hold them accountable for their votes.

“Nobody had a problem with this except for the big Wall Street companies who invented in their mind that they would be losing business to these state innovations,” said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), whose state was moving to implement an auto-IRA program. “This is a terrible, terrible thing we are doing,” he said of the Senate’s vote to undermine the state programs.

The California Secure Choice program and similar retirement laws generally require employers with no retirement plans to automatically invest a small percentage of each worker’s pay in a state-sponsored retirement account. Employers can opt out of the program if they choose.

The money is managed by private investment firms that partner with the states. The accounts are intended to help build financial security for some 55 million workers nationwide whose employers do not offer a retirement plan.

The push to implement the programs was delayed for years by complicated federal Labor Department rules governing such investment pools. In its final months, the Obama administration gave states the green light to pursue their vision. But Congress has now voted to revoke that authority, leaving the programs in limbo. Opponents of the state programs say they became too risky for consumers after the federal rules were changed.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) denounced the regulation permitting the retirement plans as something “that President Obama personally ordered Labor Secretary Tom Perez to draft as a gift to certain blue states.”

Democrats on the Senate floor charged such arguments were a smoke screen to obscure an effort to protect the profits of big investment houses concerned their business could be eroded if companies moved their employees into state-sponsored plans.

The congressional vote brought to a head an early confrontation between California and the Trump-era Congress. The retirement law is a signature achievement of California Senate leader Kevin de Leon, who worked on it for years.

The House passed the measure to block the programs in March at the urging of De Leon’s fellow Californian and longtime political rival, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the House majority leader. . .

Continue reading.

Trump will sign it. He feels vindictive toward California (e.g., holding up the bullet-train money) because California didn’t vote for him, and that hits a narcissist like Trump pretty hard.

This is really going out of their way to hurt the people, but of course the same party did everything they could to stop Obamacare and now are doing everything they can to kill it, and they don’t care at all that 24 million people will lose their healthcare insurance. As long as it hurts the poor, that’s good enough.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 4:53 pm

Today, Vermont made history by becoming the first state where both the House and Senate passed marijuana legalization bills!

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Now to see how Jeff Sessions reacts. The story.

The fact that it was passed by the legislature must be a big deal for Sessions. He staked his claim on states’ rights long ago, and he claims to respect state sovereignity. And passage by the state legislature does, once signed by the governor, make it (state) sovereign law.

However, Sessions never seemed bothered by being inconsistent—he’s a Republican, after all—so I imagine he’ll go after them with both guns blazing.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 3:43 pm

Trump Administration Hires Official Whom Five Students Accused of Sexual Assault

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Trying to look on the bright side, this indicates that in some areas at least, Trump is not a hypocrite. Justin Elliott reports in ProPublica:

A political appointee hired by the Trump administration for a significant State Department role was accused of multiple sexual assaults as a student several years ago at The Citadel military college.

Steven Munoz was hired by the Trump administration as assistant chief of visits, running an office of up to 10 staffers charged with the sensitive work of organizing visits of foreign heads of state to the U.S. That includes arranging meetings with the president.

At The Citadel, five male freshmen alleged that Munoz used his positions as an upperclassman, class president and head of the campus Republican Society to grope them. In one incident, a student reported waking up with Munoz on top of him, kissing him and grabbing his genitals. In another, on a trip to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., a student said that Munoz jumped on him in bed and he “felt jerking and bouncing on my back.”

An investigation by The Citadel later found that “certain assaults likely occurred.” A local prosecutor reviewed the case and declined to seek an indictment.

Munoz’s hiring raises questions about the Trump administration’s vetting of political appointees, which has been both slow and spotty, with multiple incidents of staff being fired only weeks into their jobs, including for disloyalty to Trump. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Munoz, a Miami native, worked as a political consultant in South Carolina after graduating from The Citadel in 2011. He was publicly reported to be under investigation the following year around the time he was working for Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign. Stories from that time, which outline some but not all of the allegations against Munoz, are easy to find via a simple Google search.

Details of the case, drawn from an extensive, previously unreported police case file, also raise questions about The Citadel’s response to the alleged string of assaults, according to experts in campus sexual assault. After one student reported to a school official in 2010 that Munoz had sexually assaulted him, The Citadel didn’t discipline Munoz. Instead, it gave him a warning.

Over the next year and a half, Munoz allegedly assaulted four other students. Those incidents weren’t reported until well after Munoz graduated in 2011.

Munoz referred questions to his lawyer, the prominent Charleston defense attorney Andy Savage, who denied the allegations. “I believe that certain disgruntled cadets made exaggerated claims of wrongdoing concerning Munoz’s participation in boorish behavior that was historically tacitly approved, if not encouraged, by the Institution,” Savage said.

Upon graduation, The Citadel gave Munoz an award for “leadership, sound character and service to others.” The citation said he could “always be counted upon to help classmates who need assistance and to mentor younger cadets adjusting to life at The Citadel.”

A Citadel spokeswoman, Kim Keelor, said the committee that gave the award would not have known about the 2010 allegation because of privacy law. Keelor said of the case overall: “The college proceeded thoughtfully in addressing the reports in accordance with its policy and related processes, and with great concern for those involved and the protection of their privacy.”

When more students came forward the year after Munoz graduated, The Citadel banned him from campus and referred the case to state police, who did an extensive investigation. . .

Continue reading.

I was thinking about this report and the general issues regarding belief and sexual assault. I think in this case the victims will be readily believed, and certainly the fact that they are men helps: the default seems to be that many people will believe what a man says and disbelieve and woman victim’s claims. Of course, in the Munoz case the stories showed a pattern and to some extent corroborated each other. But then Trump’s victims stories were consistent and credible with Trump’s own claims about what he has done to women. And yet Trump’s denial is believed despite the fact that Trump lies constantly, most recently about the latest healthcare bill. And I don’t think he’s retracted his statements that his healthcare program will cover everyone, with better benefits, and at lower cost. But now the GOP is trying to rush through this latest iteration before the CBO score arrives to show how many millions are likely to lose coverage, and how much higher premiums will be for those that remain. They certainly don’t want to see that before they vote. The GOP still operates as though the ethical imperative was “plausible deniability.”

Also: Kevin Drum has a good column on it.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

Woman found guilty and faces year in jail for laughing at Jeff Sessions

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Clark Mindock reports in The Independent:

A woman who was charged with disorderly conduct for laughing during the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been found guilty and could face up to a year in prison.

Desiree Fairooz has been convicted for laughing early in Mr Sessions’ confirmation hearing after Alabama Senator Richard Shelby said that the future attorney general’s record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well documented.” She has been convicted alongside two other protesters who had donned Ku Klux Klan costumes during the confirmation. Those two protesters could also face up to a year in prison.

The conviction comes after a two-day trial in the United States Superior Court in Washington. Ms Fairooz told the New York Times that she is “really disappointed” and that her lawyer are planning on filing post-trial motions to have the verdict cast aside. It is too early to discuss an appeal she says.

All three protesters are connected to Code Pink, a women’s rights activist organisation.

“I felt it was my responsibility as a citizen to dissent at the confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions, a man who professes anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT policies, who has voted against several civil rights measures and who jokes about the white supremacist terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan,” Ms Fairooz said in a statement released before the verdict came in.

Prosecutors said they brought the charges because the laugh was an attempt to “impede, disrupt, and disturb orderly conduct” of the confirmation hearing.

Mr Sessions was a controversial pick to become the nation’s leading law enforcement official and his confirmation path was wrought with contentious moments. The former senator from Alabama was repeatedly accused of expressing racist views in the past — a history of racist accusations that includes a 1980s ad aired by Mr Shelby himself that accused him of calling the KKK “good ole boys.”

During his confirmation, Mr Sessions saw rare opposition from a fellow sitting senator, New Jersey’s Corey Booker, who testified boldly against him during his hearings saying that his civil rights record disqualified him from the attorney general post. Mr Booker was joined by civil rights legend Representative John Lewis in voicing concerns about Mr Sessions during those hearings. . .

Continue reading.

Among Sessions’ first acts as Attorney General was to break off Federal investigations and prosecutions when white police officers shoot unarmed black men to death. However, he apparently does see laughing at him as a serious crime. I think the women should have testified that she saw him reaching toward his waistband. That works for cops who shoot unarmed civilians.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 2:50 pm

America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People

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Lynn Parramore writes at the Institute for New Economic Thinking:

You’ve probably heard the news that the celebrated post-WW II beating heart of America known as the middle class has gone from “burdened,” to “squeezed” to “dying.”  But you might have heard less about what exactly is emerging in its place.

In a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT, draws a portrait of the new reality in a way that is frighteningly, indelibly clear:  America is not one country anymore. It is becoming two, each with vastly different resources, expectations, and fates.

Two roads diverged

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

The two sectors, notes Temin, have entirely distinct financial systems, residential situations, and educational opportunities. Quite different things happen when they get sick, or when they interact with the law. They move independently of each other. Only one path exists by which the citizens of the low-wage country can enter the affluent one, and that path is fraught with obstacles. Most have no way out.

The richest large economy in the world, says Temin, is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation. We have entered a phase of regression, and one of the easiest ways to see it is in our infrastructure: our roads and bridges look more like those in Thailand or Venezuela than the Netherlands or Japan. But it goes far deeper than that, which is why Temin uses a famous economic model created to understand developing nations to describe how far inequality has progressed in the United States. The model is the work of West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. For the first time, this model is applied with systematic precision to the U.S.

The result is profoundly disturbing.

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Mass incarceration – check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

In the developing countries Lewis studied, people try to move from the low-wage sector to the affluent sector by transplanting from rural areas to the city to get a job. Occasionally it works; often it doesn’t. Temin says that today in the U.S., the ticket out is education, which is difficult for two reasons: you have to spend money over a long period of time, and the FTE sector is making those expenditures more and more costly by defunding public schools and making policies that increase student debt burdens.

Getting a good education, Temin observes, isn’t just about a college degree. It has to begin in early childhood, and you need parents who can afford to spend time and resources all along the long journey. If you aspire to college and your family can’t make transfers of money to you on the way, well, good luck to you. Even with a diploma, you will likely find that high-paying jobs come from networks of peers and relatives. Social capital, as well as economic capital, is critical, but because of America’s long history of racism and the obstacles it has created for accumulating both kinds of capital, black graduates often can only find jobs in education, social work, and government instead of higher-paying professional jobs like technology or finance— something most white people are not really aware of. Women are also held back by a long history of sexism and the burdens — made increasingly heavy — of making greater contributions to the unpaid care economy and lack of access to crucial healthcare.

How did we get this way?

What happened to America’s middle class, which rose triumphantly in the post-World War II years, buoyed by the GI bill, the victories of labor unions, and programs that gave the great mass of workers and their families health and pension benefits that provided security?

The dual economy didn’t happen overnight, says Temin. The story started just a couple of years after the ’67 Summer of Love. Around 1970, the productivity of workers began to get divided from their wages. Corporate attorney and later Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell galvanized the business community to lobby vigorously for its interests. Johnson’s War on Poverty was replaced by Nixon’s War on Drugs, which sectioned off many members of the low-wage sector, disproportionately black, into prisons. Politicians increasingly influenced by the FTE sector turned from public-spirited universalism to free-market individualism. As money-driven politics accelerated (a phenomenon explained by the Investment Theory of Politics, as Temin explains), leaders of the FTE sector became increasingly emboldened to ignore the needs of members of the low-wage sector, or even to actively work against them.

America’s underlying racism has a continuing distorting impact. A majority of the low-wage sector is white, with blacks and Latinos making up the other part, but politicians learned to talk as if the low-wage sector is mostly black because it allowed them to appeal to racial prejudice, which is useful in maintaining support for the structure of the dual economy — and hurting everyone in the low-wage sector.  Temin notes that “the desire to preserve the inferior status of blacks has motivated policies against all members of the low-wage sector.”

Temin points out that the presidential race of 2016 both revealed and amplified the anger of the low-wage sector at this increasing imbalance. Low-wage whites who had been largely invisible in public policy until recently came out of their quiet despair to be heard. Unfortunately, present trends are not only continuing, but also accelerating their problems, freezing the dual economy into place.

What can we do?

We’ve been digging ourselves into a hole for over forty years, but Temin says that we know how to stop digging. If we . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 12:55 pm

Bosses believe your work skills will soon be useless. (Theirs will be fine, thanks.)

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Danielle Pacquette reports in the Washington Post:

Nearly a third of business leaders and technology analysts express “no confidence” that education and job training in the United States will evolve rapidly enough to match the next decade’s labor market demands, a new report from the Pew Research Center finds.

About 30 percent of the executives, hiring managers, college professors and automation researchers who responded to the Pew survey felt future prospects looked bleak, anticipating that firms would encounter more trouble finding workers with their desired skill sets over the next decade.

“Barring a neuroscience advance that enables us to embed knowledge and skills directly into brain tissue and muscle formation, there will be no quantum leap in our ability to ‘up-skill’ people,” wrote Andrew Walls, managing vice president at Gartner, an IT consulting firm.

“Seriously? You’re asking about the workforce of the future?” added another respondent, a science editor who asked to stay anonymous. “As if there’s going to be one?”

Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of Internet, science and technology research, the study’s co-author, helped canvass, reaching out to 8,000 decision makers in Pew’s database. About 1,400 responded, and many of those told the researchers they were bracing for machines to transform the ways humans work — sometimes in unpredictable ways.

“People are wrestling with this basic metaphysical question: What are humans good for?” he said. “It’s important to figure that out because this blended world of machines and humans is already upon us and it’s going to accelerate.”

Most of the business and technology professionals expected new training programs to emerge, both at schools and on the private market, to better prepare the future labor force. But 30 percent of the 1,408 respondents doubted such a quick transformation could take place. They felt, according to the report, that “adaptation in teaching environments will not be sufficient to prepare workers for future jobs.”

Jerry Michalski, the founder at REX, a technology think tank in Portland, Ore., feared public schools and universities aren’t keeping up with changes in the economy.

“They take too long to teach impractical skills,” he wrote, “and knowledge not connected to the real world.”

“I’m skeptical that educational and training programs can keep pace with technology,” added Thomas Claburn, editor-at-large at Information Week, a news site. . . .

Continue reading.

I’m quite interested in what Jerry Michalski considers to be “impractical skills and knowledge not connected to the real world.” I imagine Esperanto is in there (even though Esperanto is totally practical as a propaedeutic foreign language (the language you learn first so that the next language is learned better and more easily). I fear he is throwing out the liberal arts and focusing solely on vocational education. That may work to produce docile workers, but one of the requirements in a democracy is that people be educated for their role as citizens, and that goes beyond vocational and occupational knowledge. If you don’t see that citizens are educated for their civic duty, you end up with a government run by people such as Donald Trump.

This problem—the mass destruction of jobs due to automation (as we bring autonomous vehicles and AI on-line)—reminds me of climate change: it’s going to be a true disaster, but it won’t hit really hard for a few years, so it seems as though too many (citizens, government officials, businesses, schools and colleges, churches, and so on) are thinking (somehow) that we’ll cross that bridge when we get to do and are doing absolutely nothing to get ready for this.

I imagine the same mindset was seen at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It’s as though people cannot face a situation until it smashes into their face.

Update: See also:

Apple-Picking Robot Prepares to Compete for Farm Jobs

Where Automation Poses the Biggest Threat to American Jobs

From the second:

The authors estimate that almost all large American metropolitan areas may lose more than 55 percent of their current jobs because of automation in the next two decades. “We felt it was really stunning, since we are underestimating the probability of automation,” said Johannes Moenius, the director of the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis at the University of Redlands, which prepared the report. . . .

Moenius and colleagues used a widely cited 2013 study from Oxford University predicting which of roughly 700 common jobs are most susceptible to automation, and then mapped out which metropolitan areas have a high share of those jobs. That study, by the economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, suggested that 47 percent of total U.S. employment is at risk of automation over the next decade or two; they found that telemarketers, insurance underwriters and appraisers, tax preparers, and cashiers were some of the most likely to see their jobs threatened by automation, while the livelihoods of mental-health and substance-abuse social workers, oral surgeons, choreographers, and physicians were more protected.

So what is the plan for those whose jobs are lost and their families? We’re going to wait until it happens and then try to figure out what to do?

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 12:24 pm

Former Texas prosecutor sent a probably innocent man to his death and is now on trial

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It’s extremely rare for prosecutors (or police officers) to be held accountable for misconduct, but it’s happening now in Texas, though it’s still a long shot. Jordan Smith reports in The Intercept:

THE COURTHOUSE IN Corsicana, Texas, roughly 60 miles southeast of Dallas, has been meticulously restored to its original 1905 glory, a time when the county was awash in oil money. Its main courtroom has soaring, two-story pink walls and gold-flecked architectural details that frame the judge’s bench, witness stand, and jury box. For more than three decades, John Jackson worked this room (though during those years it was a far more utilitarian space), first as a prosecutor with the Navarro County district attorney’s office and later as an elected judge, until his retirement in 2012.

Last week he returned, this time as a defendant, facing charges brought by the State Bar of Texas, whose lawyers argue that Jackson violated basic legal ethics in connection with his conduct in prosecuting the county’s most notorious case, the death penalty trial of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted and ultimately executed for what the state insists was the December 1991 arson-murder of his three young children in the home they shared just over a mile away.

Specifically, the state’s lawyers contend that Jackson made a deal with a jailhouse snitch who agreed to testify against Willingham and then hid that deal from Willingham’s defense attorneys — a clear violation of both law and ethics. They say that Jackson took extraordinary measures over the next two decades to conceal his deceitful actions.

“It is a duty of the prosecution — an ethical obligation — to turn over that evidence,” state bar lawyer Kristin Brady told jurors in her opening arguments last Wednesday afternoon. “For years he protected this snitch; for years. It wasn’t for [the snitch’s] protection, it was for his own protection.”

The prosecution of Willingham has been widely reported and litigated, in part because his conviction was secured on twin pillars of evidence known to wreak havoc in the criminal justice system: junk science and incentivized snitch testimony.

Where the junk science is concerned, there is now little question that the fire that killed Willingham’s children was not arson — caused, as the state claimed, by Willingham spreading lighter fluid around his house and setting it ablaze. Leading fire scientists have weighed in to say that the evidence the Corsicana Fire Department and Texas fire marshal investigator relied upon in fingering Willingham as the cause of the deadly blaze was based on outdated, discredited fire-science folklore.

It is the second basis of the prosecution, however, that underlies Jackson’s current civil disciplinary trial.

In short, lead prosecutor Jackson called a man named Johnny Webb to testify at Willingham’s 1992 trial to say that while he was locked up in the county jail on an aggravated robbery charge, his fellow inmate, Willingham, randomly, and in detail, confessed to Webb his alleged crime. Under questioning by Jackson, Webb asserted that he did not expect any benefit in exchange for his incriminating testimony.

In the years since Willingham’s 2004 execution, significant evidence has come to light indicating that was untrue. Records amassed by the bar association and the Innocence Project — including lengthy correspondence between Jackson and Webb spanning roughly a decade — strongly suggest not only that it was at least implied to Webb that he would receive a reduced sentence for his testimony, but also that Jackson went to great lengths to make that happen. Moreover, Webb now insists that his trial testimony was false and compelled by Jackson.

On the witness stand on April 27, Jackson vehemently denied the allegations.

Lawyers for the bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel have tried to make clear that they are not here to re-litigate the question of Willingham’s guilt or innocence, which they say is irrelevant. The sole issue at hand, they argue, is whether Jackson’s actions as they relate to his dealings with Webb violated legal ethics — so far to seemingly thin effect.

Indeed, where the bar attorneys have toed that straight-line, Joseph Byrne, Jackson’s attorney, has done his best to conflate the issue of Willingham’s guilt with Jackson’s innocence: The bar, he has suggested, is motivated only by an interest in tarring Jackson in order to demonstrate that his client — and the state of Texas — hastened the execution of an innocent man.

The Shoulders of a Jailhouse Snitch

It was roughly 10:30 a.m. on December 23, 1991, when the fire broke out in the five-room wood frame house on West 11th Ave. in Corsicana that Willingham shared with his wife, Stacy, and their three young daughters. The bodies of Willingham’s twin 1-year-old girls were found amid the charred remains of the house. They had perished in the fire. First responders later carried out the 2-year-old, who was still alive. She died at the hospital shortly thereafter, of smoke inhalation.

According to the local newspaper, Willingham was distraught at the scene. Sitting on the back of a fire truck, he was sobbing and screaming, “I want to see my babies!” He was taken to the hospital as well, where he was treated for first- and second-degree burns on his face, back, and hands, according to the Corsicana Daily Sun. At the time of the fire, Stacy was picking out Christmas presents for the kids at the local Salvation Army.

The heartbreaking tragedy brought a groundswell of local support. Firefighters and cops pledged to help the family make it through the holiday season. But the goodwill quickly disappeared. On January 8, 1992, Willingham was arrested, booked into jail, and charged with three counts of murder.

In the 16 days between the fire and Willingham’s arrest, things had changed significantly, primarily because of the assessment of the fire marshal investigator, Manuel Vasquez. According to Vasquez, there were telltale signs — among them, burn marks on the floor and so-called crazed glass — telling him this was no innocent blaze.

Meanwhile, witnesses at the scene — and people who observed Willingham in the days just after the fire — concluded that he wasn’t appropriately distraught and was seemingly unconcerned about what had happened. The elected district attorney announced that his office would seek death for the 23-year-old father.

After a two-day trial led by Jackson that summer, Willingham was found guilty and sent to death row. He was executed in February 2004, despite serious questions about the validity of the fire science that sent him there. In the intervening years, a number of experts reviewed the case, concluding that there was no evidence of arson. Instead, experts suggest the fire was more likely caused by a space heater or faulty wiring. In the absence of evidence of arson, the integrity of Willingham’s conviction rested squarely on the shoulders of a jailhouse snitch.

In the spring of 1992, Johnny Webb had just pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated robbery; according to the plea, Webb had tried to rob a woman of her purse at knifepoint.

While he was awaiting transfer to prison, Webb met Willingham, who had been arrested and charged with murder roughly two months before. Webb was a jail trusty at the time, meaning he was allowed more freedom than a typical inmate and was tasked with daily chores — in this case, keeping the floors in the common area of the cellblock clean. That put him in daily contact with any number of inmates, including Willingham.

According to Webb’s account at Willingham’s trial, for the first month that Webb was around him, Willingham didn’t say much — only that he was having a difficult time sleeping and that he did not kill his children. One day that changed: Out of nowhere, Webb said Willingham confessed that he had set the fire in order to kill the kids — or, rather, to ensure that the authorities wouldn’t find out that one of them had been grievously injured, presumably by his wife Stacy, earlier that morning. Webb said that Willingham came home to find one of the children injured and set the fire to cover the abuse.

There was immediate reason to be suspicious of Webb’s account: None of the children showed any signs of abuse and Stacy wasn’t even at home when the fire broke out. There was but one detail in Webb’s story that dovetailed with the state’s theory of the case, the notion that Willingham had used an accelerant to start the blaze.

Under Jackson’s questioning, Webb testified that he was not coaxed by anyone to provide this story about Willingham nor promised anything in return for his testimony in the case. “As a matter of fact, I told you there is nothing I can do for you,” Jackson followed up.

“You said there was nothing that no one can do for me,” Webb affirmed. . .

Continue reading.

It gets worse and worse. I’m sure it will not happen, but I think in all fairness that Jackson should get the death penalty, in the interests of making the punishment fit the crime.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 10:16 am

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