Christoher Hitchens on Kim Jong-Il, One-Party States, and Putting the X Back in Xmas!

In this classic from 2007, recently deceased
journalist Christopher Hitchens gives a dramatic reading of Tom
Lehrer’s “Christmas Song.” In introducing the topic, Hitchens talks
about why he doesn’t like Christmas much and invokes the specter of
recently deceased tyrant Kim Jong-Il of North Korea.

About 3 minutes.

Read Reason’s obit
for Hitchens here

Year in Review: Cameron Todd Willingham

4:59 PM

By: John A. Salazar

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Two decades ago in Corsicana, Texas, three young girls were killed in a fire. At the time, investigators ruled it arson. Many years later, the girls’ father, Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed for their deaths in 2004.

In January of 2011, the Texas Forensic Science Commission heard evidence from the nation’s leading fire expert, who said investigators in 1991 had a poor understanding of the science behind fires.

The forensic panel was commissioned by the state to review criminal cases where professional negligence or misconduct is a concern.

“No matter how many rules are changed or laws are passed, it’s not going to bring him back,” Willingham’s mother Eugenia Willingham said.

The panel is made up of scientists seeking forensic truth. In April, the commission’s chair, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, went before a state senate committee seeking confirmation after Gov. Perry appointed him to the position.

“Are you able to divorce your role as a prosecutor, in your county, from your role as chair of this commission to look at the forensic science?â€� State Sen. Rodney Ellis asked Bradley this year. “Or do you think you’re so unique that you wouldn’t have a conflict or you couldn’t raise the same issues about yourself? After all, you are John Bradley, God’s gift to us.”

Bradley lost his bid to head the forensic commission. Some state senators believed the prosecutor with a tough-on-crime reputation couldn’t serve the panel in an unbiased fashion. Bradley had even called Willingham a “guilty monsterâ€� publicly.

“I was simply responding to advocacy groups that were attempting to portray a case in an incorrect light,â€� Bradley said. “The commission does not evaluate guilt or innocence, the commission looks at forensic science.”

In July, the forensic panel’s authority to investigate older cases received a major setback. The state attorney general’s office wrote an opinion stating the panel could not examine, at-length, cases older than 2005. Willingham had been executed in 2004.

“We were baffled that this commission is now questioning their jurisdiction of a case that they have been investigating actively for five years,” Willingham’s cousin, Patricia Willingham Cox said.

In October, the board released a final report making 17 recommendations to modernize arson investigations.

The board also directed the state’s fire marshal to review at least 700 arson cases statewide.

Man serving life term in 1983 shooting death of UT student denied parole – Austin American


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The Blotter


2011 December 19 Entry

Man serving life term in 1983 shooting death of UT student denied parole

Monday, December 19, 2011, 04:54 PM

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied parole to a man sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping, rape, robbery and murder of a University of Texas student in 1983, according to the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office.

James Otis Clary, 56, was convicted in 1985 for his part in the killing of 24-year-old Rosalind Robison, the district attorney’s office said.

Clary and his accomplice, Tommy Ray Jackson, kidnapped Robison from the parking lot of the Petroleum Engineering Building on the University of Texas campus Nov. 17, 1983, and drove her in her own car north on Interstate 35, sexually assaulting her during the trip, the district attorney’s office said.

Jackson shot her in the back of the head by a farm road near Hutto after telling her he had heard her use his name, the district attorney’s office said. Jackson was executed in 2000, the district attorney’s office said. Clary will be reconsidered for parole in December 2014, according to the district attorney’s office.


Inquiry sought for Texas prosecutor over wrongful conviction

Lawyers for a Texas man officially exonerated Monday after serving 25 years of a life sentence in connection with his wife’s murder requested a special judicial inquiry into alleged misconduct by the lead prosecutor.

After Michael Morton, 57, was released in October, his lawyers continued investigating the lead prosecutor in the case, former Williamson County Dist. Atty. Ken Anderson, now a District Court judge. On Monday, they filed a report summing up their investigation and argued that Anderson acted improperly while prosecuting Morton for the fatal 1986 beating of his wife, Christine, at their home in the Austin suburb of Georgetown.

The 144-page report, accompanied by 60 pages of exhibits, faults Anderson for refusing “to take any personal responsibility” for Morton’s wrongful conviction.

“The problem in the Morton case is not that the system failed, but that Judge Anderson did not play by the rules,” the report says.

At the hearing before District Judge Sid Harle in Georgetown, Morton’s lawyers asked the judge to establish a “court of inquiry” to examine allegations that Anderson illegally suppressed evidence that could have undercut the prosecution’s case by failing to provide documents requested by Morton’s trial judge.

Harle said he would take the request under advisement and invited Anderson’s lawyers to file a response.

After the hearing, Morton celebrated before a crowd of reporters. “Revenge is a natural instinct, but it’s not my goal here,” he said. “Just accountability.”

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project and one of Morton’s lawyers, said the lawyers hope the case sets a precedent.

“We are really hoping there will be hearings and not just in Texas, but across the country to get a remedy to this problem,” Scheck said, “to make sure this never happens to anybody else again.”

Anderson could not be reached at his office Monday. Eric Nichols, an Austin attorney who represented him at Monday’s hearing, did not return phone calls.

Last month, Anderson called a news conference to say he was sorry “for the system’s failure” in the Morton case, but he denied any misconduct.

State law allows Harle to ask that a “court of inquiry” be convened if he determines there is probable cause that a state law has been broken. Normally, his request would go to the district’s presiding judge, but that judge has already recused himself, meaning the request would probably go to the state Supreme Court.

Once a judge is selected to handle the inquiry, the local district or county attorney assists, examining witnesses and evidence.

If the inquiry finds Anderson committed serious misconduct, it could lead to disciplinary action by the state bar and possibly criminal prosecution.

After Morton’s release, the State Bar of Texas began examining how prosecutors handled the case, a spokeswoman said, but no findings had been released Monday.

Susan Klein, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said it would be “incredibly unusual” for Anderson to face prosecution or even discipline.

Robert Owen, a visiting clinical professor of law at Northwestern University who has served as co-director of the Capital Punishment Center at the University of Texas at Austin, said he has seen a few “court of inquiry” cases and although it is unlikely Morton’s prosecutor will be punished, there are still lessons to be learned.

“One lesson that defense lawyers should draw from it is that you should never stop demanding exculpatory evidence,” Owen said.

The Supreme Court, in the landmark Brady vs. Maryland ruling in 1963, said prosecutors have a duty to share exculpatory evidence that indicates a defendant is not guilty.

One way to prevent prosecutors from withholding such evidence is “open file” discovery policies.

North Carolina was among the first states to enact open-file legislation in 2004 after several death row inmates were exonerated, in part due to evidence that prosecutors had withheld.

California, like Texas, does not have a statewide open-file policy, according to Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson.

Last year, a Texas state committee convened to prevent wrongful convictions urged legislators to pass an open-file law, noting that of the state’s first 39 DNA exonerations, seven involved evidence suppression or other prosecutorial misconduct.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry said he supported the recommendation, and state Sen. Rodney Ellis said his office was drafting legislation he planned to propose that would institute a statewide open-file policy.

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