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Alabama Capital Punishment History
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Thread: Alabama Capital Punishment History

  1. #1
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Alabama Capital Punishment History

    The death penalty in Alabama was reinstated on March 25, 1976, when Alabama's legislature passed, and Governor George Wallace signed, a new death penalty statute to comply with Furman v. Georgia, the 1972 case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that death-penalty statutes then in existence were unconstitutional, effectively banning capital punishment until Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. No execution was carried out until 1977.


    From 1927 until 2002, electrocution was the only method of execution in Alabama. In July 2002, lethal injection became the default method, although electrocution can still be used at the request of the prisone

    Since the introduction of lethal injection, every inmate has chosen it over the electric chair. The last inmate executed involuntarily in the chair in Alabama was Lynda Lyon Block.

    Executions are carried out at the Holman Correctional Facility, near Atmore, Alabama.

    As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime or mentally retarded are constitutionally exempt from execution.

    Capital crimes

    Intentional murder with any of 18 aggravating factors can be charged as capital murder. Juries can recommend a sentence, but the trial judge makes the determination.


    The Governor of Alabama has sole authority to grant a commutation of sentence in capital (as well as non-capital) cases.

    There has been only one commutation of a death sentence since 1976. Judith Ann Neelley's death sentence was commuted to life in prison by outgoing Governor Fob James in January 1999.

    Earlier history

    Between 1812 and 1965, 708 people were executed in Alabama.

    Until 1927, hanging was the primary method of execution, although one person was shot.

    In addition to murder, capital crimes in Alabama formerly included rape, arson, and robbery. Alabama executed the last person convicted of a crime other than murder in the U.S.: James Coburn, for robbery, in 1964.

    Eighteen of the people executed in the pre-Furman era were women.

    Most people executed for rape in Alabama were black. Many of these cases were controversial.


  2. #2
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Ala. executes 24 during Riley's terms as governor

    MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Long after he leaves office next month, Gov. Bob Riley says he won't be able to forget 24 specific days during his eight years in office. Those are the days when an Alabama death row inmate was executed by lethal injection at Holman Prison in Atmore - deaths that Riley could have stopped with a phone call.

    The 24 executions since Riley became governor in January, 2003 are the most under the watch of any Alabama governor since Frank Dixon was governor from 1939 to 1943, according to Department of Corrections records. There were 33 executions during Dixon's four years in office. The most during the administration of any Alabama governor since the state took over executions from the counties in the 1920s was 49 during the two terms of Gov. Bibb Graves in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Graves and Dixon served as governor during an era when the appeals process was not as lengthy or complex.

    Riley's number of executions won't change because no more are scheduled before he leaves office Jan. 17.

    The outgoing governor said the days and hours leading up to an execution are hard on any governor.

    "When governors get together, there are very few times that it doesn't come up. Every governor takes it very seriously," Riley said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

    Each time when an inmate was executed by lethal injection, Riley said he and his staff were aware of what was going on for days in advance. In some cases the inmates filed clemency petitions asking Riley to stop the execution and at times he received letters, phone calls and even visits from relatives, friends, ministers and others asking that he show mercy and spare the inmate's life. There were also pleas from the parents, children and friends of the victims of the inmates, asking the governor to show no mercy and allow the execution to proceed, giving them closure for the often vicious deaths of loved ones.

    Riley said on the days of the executions - in Alabama carried out on Thursdays at 6 p.m. - he would block out two hours to review details of the inmate's case with his staff. Riley never stopped an execution, although there is a phone in the death chamber as a reminder that one call from the governor could send the inmate back to his cell to live another day.

    The only Alabama governor who has commuted a sentence in recent years was Fob James. He commuted the sentence of death row inmate Judith Ann Neelley in January 1999, several days before he was to leave office. Neelley was sentenced to die for the murder of a 13-year-old Georgia girl.

    Alabama Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw, who supervises death penalty appeals, said the number of executions since Riley took office has nothing to do with the governor's politics or views concerning the death penalty. It's because the appeals process, which can take 20 years or longer, ran out for a number of inmates.

    "It doesn't have anything to do with Riley, although he certainly has the power to stop them," Crenshaw said.

    He said the reason for the number of recent executions - there have been five this year and 11 in the last two years - goes back to 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared a moratorium on the death penalty. It was lifted in 1976, but it in effect caused appeals in death cases to start at the beginning.

    "They started over with a clean slate in 1976," Crenshaw said.

    The number of inmates executed since Riley took office is high compared to other recent Alabama governors. There were eight during the four years Don Siegelman was governor, eight during the more than six years Guy Hunt was governor and seven during the second four-year term of Fob James. There were no executions during James' first term from 1979 to 1983.

    While Riley ranks high on the list of current and recent U.S. governors when it comes to executions, he's nowhere close to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. There have been 224 executions in the death chamber at Huntsville, Texas, since Perry became governor in 2000. Other governors who have overseen more executions than Riley include former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating with 51 from 1995-2003, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore with 41 from 1998 to 2002 and current Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, with 38 since he took office in 2003.

    Riley said he has turned down requests for clemency after extensive review partly because he believes the inmates' cases have been thoroughly reviewed over a number of years starting with the trial jury and going through various levels of state and federal appeals courts.

    "I believe in the death penalty. I believe it's a deterrent. If we can save one life by having it, I think we should keep it," Riley said.


  3. #3
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    Alabama's Death Row - Final Moments

    Preparing for an inmates execution takes plays many days before the execution itself is set to take place.

    Following precedent, the Alabama Supreme Court orders death warrants to take place on Thursdays. Before lethal injection was introduced in 2002, all executions took place at 12:01 a.m. After 2002, executions were moved take place at 6 p.m. to be more accommodating to witnesses.

    On Tuesday before the scheduled execution, an inmate is moved to a holding cell which is adjacent to the death chamber. They are kept on strict 24-hour watch to prevent suicide.

    On the days before an inmate is executed, he is allowed **several opportunities for extended visitations with family, clergy and his attorneys. These visitations take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and can last from 8 a.m. up until 4 p.m.

    On Thursday, an inmate can request a last meal, but most inmates do not, according to a state prisons official. Those that do request a last meal are usually served in the afternoon.

    Just before 6 p.m., the inmate is transferred to the death chamber. Here, a team of correctional officers tie him down to the execution gurney, and medical personnel insert an IV into the offenderusually the arm. While Alabama officials will not describe specific procedures used, other states will insert two IV lines, one in each arm. If medical personnel are unable to find a suitable vein in the arm, Texas will allow inserting the vein into the leg, foot, hand or groin.

    Close to 6 p.m., witnesses from the media, victims family and inmates family are escorted into a viewing chamber. There are three separate chamber, one for each group. Curtains covering a glass pane are retracted, and witnesses see the inmate strapped to the gurney, along with the warden of Holman prison, a prison chaplain and security personnel. The warden of Holman Correctional Facility Warden will then read the execution warrant from the Alabama Supreme Court.

    The inmate is offered to give a final statement. Prison officials say that often times inmates will forgo a final statement. There is no official limit on the length of a final statement.

    While Alabama law considers the Warden of Holman as the executioner, state prison officials would not discuss who actually administers the drugs.

    While Alabamas particular drug cocktail is not discussed by prison officials, most states use a three-drug cocktail. The first drug, pentobarbital, is a high-powered barbiturate used to put the inmate to sleep. In most cases, the dose of this drug is so high that, given enough time, would kill an inmate on its own.

    The other two drugs in the cocktail are used to speed along the death of the inmate. The second, pancromium bromide, essentially relaxes the inmates diaphragm, causing them to suffocate. The inmate is unconscious, and according to many medical officials should not feel themselves unable to breath.

    The third drug, potassium chloride, essentially stops the heart and causes the inmate to dieusually within seconds of its administration.

    The entire process takes up to 4-8 minutes, at which time a medical professional will check the inmates vital signs. After declaring the inmate dead, a coroner will pick up the body and transport it. The family may take the inmates body or, if no one claims the inmates body, the Alabama Department of Corrections will bury the body in a prison cemetery.


  4. #4

  5. #5
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    Death row population growing as juries and judges choose execution over life in prison

    Nicholas Smith will be sentenced by a judge in September and if the precedent of previous Calhoun County judges is followed, the sentence will be death.

    On July 2, a jury found Smith, 24, guilty of kidnapping, robbing and murdering Wellborn Elementary School teacher Kevin Thompson in April 2011. On July 10, the jury recommended to Circuit Judge Brian Howell in an 11-1 vote that Smith be executed for his crime. Howell is scheduled to sentence Smith on Sept. 3.

    Prosecutors say the trials of Smiths co-defendants, Tyrone Thompson and Jovon Gaston, should take place before the end of next year.

    The state has executed five men sentenced in Calhoun County cases since 1937 and could nearly double that number if Smith is sentenced and executed, and the death sentences of three other men eventually are carried out. The possibility for Alabama judges to increase the number of inmates on death row based on their own discretion and not a jurys recommendation has some people questioning the states judicial system.

    Three inmates currently on death row are from Calhoun County. Jimmy Davis, 42, of Anniston, was sentenced to death by former Calhoun County Circuit Judge Malcolm Street Jr. in 1994. Davis was found guilty of shooting convenience store clerk Johnny Hazle to death during a robbery. The jury recommended the death penalty for Davis by an 11-1 margin.

    Ellis Louis Mashburn, 34, of Jacksonville, was sentenced to death in 2006 by former Circuit Court Judge Sam Monk. Eleven out of 12 jurors recommended he be sentenced to death for killing his grandmother, Clara Eva Birmingham, and step-grandfather, Henry Owen Birmingham, in their Alexandria home. Prosecutors said the couple were victims of a robbery gone bad and died of multiple stab wounds and blunt-force trauma.

    Jesse Earl Scheuing, 27, of Waycross, Ga., was sentenced to death in 2010 by former Circuit Judge Malcolm Street Jr. Ten jurors, the minimum number needed to recommend a death penalty sentence in Alabama, told the court Scheuing should die for shooting Sean Adam Cook to death in an Oxford convenience store.

    Sentence reversed

    In February 2009, Howell sentenced Mark Dwyatt Brown to death for capital murder, arson, burglary and robbery in the death of four members of the Benefield family in Cleburne County. The Star previously reported that Brown, his brother, Shannon Brown, and Timothy Patrick Morris were charged in 2005 with entering the Cleburne County home in 2005 and bludgeoned to death Lena Benefield, 88, and her three sons, Reo, 69; Shable, 59; and Durward, 49; before setting the home on fire. Online court records show Browns death sentence was reversed and remanded by an appeal in July 2010.

    Browns attorneys argued that the trial court made an error when it instructed the jury that it could convict him of capital murder even if he did not have intent to kill the victims.

    Browns appeal stated the jury believed it could convict him of capital murder as long as one of his co-defendants possessed specific intent to kill. However, Alabama law says defendants cannot be convicted of capital murder or given the death penalty unless they intended to kill their victim.

    Howell said Browns case was similar to Smiths in that there were three co-defendants. Howell said he needed to instruct the jury that each co-defendant must have individual intent to kill in order to be convicted of capital murder.

    The judge said he thought hed instructed the jury in that manner, but in the appeals court opinion he didnt make it clear.

    Shannon Brown is also serving a life sentence after he pleaded guilty to the crime. Morris also pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

    Error in instruction

    Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Brown asked his nonprofit organization to represent him on his appeal. Stevenson said a review of the courts transcripts revealed several errors in Browns case.

    Theres state and federal laws that regulates how a trial should be conducted, Stevenson said. Certain evidence is prejudicial. If you dont properly instruct the jury on those differences then the jury may wrongly convict someone that the evidence does not support. The judge did not properly instruct this jury.

    Howell said the victims families were supportive of Brown getting life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    They didnt really want to go back through another trial. They felt that life without gave them more finality, the judge said. Brown and Smiths cases are the only two capital cases Howell has presided over to date, he said.

    A report from EJI on Browns case noted that during the trial, Brown admitted to involvement in the robbery, but argued he did not intend for the Benefields to die and he did not kill them personally.

    Online prison records show Brown is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at Holman Prison.

    Previous cases show judges in Calhoun County typically sentence a defendant based on a jurys recommendation, but that doesnt always happen across the state.

    Alabama is one of three states that allow a judge to override a jurys sentencing recommendation for life in prison or the death penalty. The other two states Delaware and Florida have stricter rules judges must follow, including providing the court with reasoning for their decision. In Alabama, a judge can simply override a jurys recommendation without providing details as to why, according to a report on judicial override released in July 2011 by the Equal Justice Initiative.

    Talitha Powers Bailey, director of the Capital Defense Clinic at the University of Alabama, said between 20 and 30 percent of inmates on death row were sent there by judicial override. Baileys organization allows students to assist attorneys with case strategy, research and trial preparation for defendants charged with capital murder in cases where the state is seeking the death penalty.

    Bailey said its rare for a judge to override a jurys recommendation for the death penalty and give the defendant life without the possibility of parole. Alabama judges overrode a jurys recommendation for death to a life imprisonment sentence in nine cases since 1976, according to EJIs report.

    Death penalty not a deterrent

    Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said he would like to see Alabama do away with judicial overrides and the death penalty.

    Thats what juries decide. Theyre not to be a provision for one person to override, like a judge. Its a bad system. It increases the number of people on death row, Sanders said.

    Sanders said he believes if the death penalty had been a deterrent since its reinstatement that there would be fewer death penalty cases tried in the state. There have been more than 50 people executed since 1976, and death row now houses 192 inmates, according to the ADOC website. The most recent inmate to be executed, Andrew Reid Lackey, died by lethal injection Thursday. Five men were sent to death row in 2012, according to the ADOC.

    Sanders said part of the reason there are nearly 200 people on death row is due to the financial burden of hiring an attorney.

    If every person charged with a capital crime had good lawyers youd have less people on death row and have much shorter time. The prosecutor has all the resources and the lawyers on the other side have less experience and less resources to work with. Its not an even match, he said.

    Bailey said that in an average death row case, it takes about 15 years to exhaust the appeals before the inmate can be executed.

    If during the appeal process an error is discovered from the trial phase, Bailey said, then the defendant could be retried.

    If the trial court now finds that theres error, he would get a new trial or at least a new sentencing hearing and if hes again sentenced to death that process starts over again, Bailey said.

    Bailey said its unusual for a case to be retried multiple times.

    Usually on the second or third time they just settle it, Bailey said. They just agree to life without and that will stop the whole process.

    Executed from Calhoun County:

    Roosevelt Collins, executed on June 11, 1937, for rape

    Pernell Ford, executed on June 6, 2000, for murder

    James H. Callahan, executed on Jan. 15, 2009, for murder

    Danny J. Bradley, executed on Feb. 12, 2009, for murder

    William Glen Boyd, executed on March 31, 2011, for murder

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  6. #6
    Senior Member Member Johnya's Avatar
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    A contributing factor to the number of inmates on death row due to judges over-riding juries is that the circuit court judges are elected, not appointed. If they over-ride a jury recommendation and sentence the person to death they appear to be "tough on crime" to their voters. The judges come up for re-election every six years.

    Also: Alabama does not provide appellant council for DR inmates. Some of them are represented through the Southern Poverty League, EJI, or others working pro-bono. Many have no representation at all. This does not help move things along in the appeals process as many of the claims are written by the inmates themselves or jailhouse lawyers (which is illegal in Alabama).

  7. #7
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    Legal challenges continue to slow Ala. executions

    Andrew Lackey's execution late last month was the first in Alabama since 2011, when the state had six executions. Overall, the pace of executions has slowed in the state as challenges over issues such as the drugs and protocol used mount.

    Attorneys say courts allowed the execution of Lackey - convicted in the 2005 shooting and beating death of an 80-year-old Limestone County man - to proceed July 25 by lethal injection mainly because he had dropped his appeals, and they expect legal challenges to continue to slow the pace of Alabama executions.

    A leading anti-death penalty attorney, Bryan Stevenson of Montgomery, said it's doubtful additional executions will occur in the near future unless the death row inmate has dropped the appeals process.

    "There are outstanding questions about the execution protocol," Stevenson said

    Previously, Alabama was using sodium thiopental as a key drug in the protocol. After a nationwide shortage of the drug, the state's supply was seized by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in 2011. At that point the state began using pentobarbital in a three-drug protocol. That process has been challenged, but Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said there are no pending cases involving the current drug protocol.

    Attorneys questioned the effectiveness of the drugs after Alabama inmate Eddie Powell appeared to be awake even after the drugs were administered.

    Much of the slowdown in executions was caused by the case of death row inmate Tommy Arthur, who has been in prison for about 30 years for the 1982 contract killing of Troy Wicker at Wicker's his residence in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

    Arthur's is a complicated, lengthy case that has been lingering in state and federal courts for decades. Crenshaw said the case is awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller on a challenge of the drug protocol used in execution. Arthur's attorneys have argued that when the state switched from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital, it was a substantial change that needed to be approved by the courts. Crenshaw said that change is still pending before Fuller.

    Crenshaw said he doesn't believe the drugs used in executions are causing the delays any longer - he said the courts have found "no problem" with them.

    But Crenshaw said he doesn't know when the next Alabama execution will be carried out and acknowledged that the pace has slowed because of legal challenges.

    "I can't predict what the courts will rule," he said.

    Stevenson attributes much of the delay to questions over execution protocol.

    "I think there have been problems with some executions carried out in Alabama," Stevenson said. That includes the July 16, 2011, execution of Powell, charged with rape, sodomy and murder in the death of a 70-year-old Tuscaloosa County woman. During Powell's execution, he appeared to wake up and look around before he died. Powell didn't appear to be in pain, but his case has been cited in death penalty appeals.

    Stevenson also cited a problem with the state's death penalty law, in that it allows judges to overrule a jury's recommendation of life without parole.

    Democratic State Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma, a death penalty opponent, said he thinks the current slowdown in executions is a good thing, but he would like to see them stopped all together.

    "I think there are serious problems with many of the executions we carry out in Alabama," Sanders said.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  8. #8
    Senior Member CnCP Addict Richard86's Avatar
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    Wiltshire, England
    Alabama executed the last person convicted of a crime other than murder in the U.S.: James Coburn, for robbery, in 1964.
    Does anyone know where this claim originally came from and if it's true? I removed it from Wikipedia with little fuss because it's inconsistent with Alabama DoC list (as has been noted by other wikipedia users), and the few more contemporary news stories which mention it I can find. But the ESPY file makes this claim, as does Murderpedia and some less than reliable online sources.

    Is this a case where an originally incorrect wikipedia entry has been recycled into a legitimate source?

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