[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----ALABAMA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jan 6 18:45:40 UTC 2007
Talladega, St. Clair counties grant few death sentences
Although the state of Alabama as a whole is bucking the national trend of
declining numbers of convicted murderers sentenced to death, there has
been only 1 death sentence handed down in Talladega and St. Clair counties
in the last 6 years.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a record low of 114
inmates were condemned to die in 2006, down from 128 in 2005. But Alabama
courts handed down 13 in 2006, up from 10 in 2005.
Although lethal injection was recommended by a Talladega County jury, a
2003 case against Jimmy Lee Brooks Jr. originated in Russell County. It
was moved to Talladega due to pretrial publicity, but was prosecuted by
the Russell County District Attorneys Office, and the ultimate sentence
was imposed by a Russell County circuit judge.
Except for the Brooks case, the death penalty was last handed down in
Talladega in 2000. The last death penalty in St. Clair County was a year
Nationally, one of the frequently cited concerns regarding the death
penalty is in the area of "judicial override," meaning that the judge is
not bound by a jury's recommendation at sentencing.
According to the Associated Press, Alabama and Florida are the only
remaining death penalty states with judicial override, and only Alabama
allows a judge to impose a death sentence when a majority of the jurors
vote for life without parole.
"The last capital murder trial we had in St. Clair was the retrial of a
man previously sentenced to death for beating his 4-year-old son to
death," St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor said. "There was
a flaw in the jury instruction, and the case was remanded. The jury
convicted him a 2nd time, and again recommended the death penalty, but the
judge chose to sentence him to life without parole instead.
"I can actually think of 2 or 3 other cases like that in the last few
years, so when people talk about doing away with judicial overrides, they
might want to be careful what they wish for. I've seen more death penalty
recommendations overridden than I have life without parole
Minor speculated this might be the case because "with St. Clair County
being so conservative, judicial overrides might not be as significant an
issue here as, say, Jefferson County. Most of the legislators I've heard
talking about this seem to be from the Jefferson County area, anyway."
Since the last death sentence was imposed in a local case in Talladega,
four capital murder indictments have made it to trial, all resulting in
sentences of life without possibility of parole.
According to District Attorney Steve Giddens, 2 of the cases were resolved
by pleas and in the other 2 the ultimate sanction did not apply. One
because of a loophole in the capital murder statute and the other based on
a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In the former instance, the state Legislature amended the capital murder
statute to include murder by shooting into and from a vehicle. The
Legislature did not similarly amend the list of aggravating circumstances
that a jury can consider when deciding between death and life without
The latter involved a defendant with an IQ of less than 70. The U.S.
Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing a defendant
meeting the legal definition of mentally retarded constituted cruel and
There is currently only 1 capital case pending in St. Clair County, and 5
pending in Talladega County.
"Whether or not a defendant gets the death penalty depends on their being
convicted of a capital crime based on the law and the evidence," Giddens
said. "I don't really have an opinion on the numbers other than to say
that I do not seek the death penalty arbitrarily. The facts are questions
for the jury, and they make a recommendation to the judge. That's the way
it's always been."
Minor said he didn't really know why there had been so few recent capital
prosecutions in St. Clair County.
"There was a time a few years ago when we had 5 or 6 pending at a time,
just left and right," he said. "Violent crime is down nationally, and we
have not seen a great number of homicides here, although we just found a
body in Riverside 2 days ago, so maybe I shouldn't say that. We've seen a
decrease in manufacturing cases, but most of our other felonies have
remained pretty constant."
The last alleged capital murder in Talladega County was in 2005, and the
oldest pending case is a remand for a conviction more than 20 years ago.
The remaining 3 have been pending for several years now, for a variety of
reasons, according to Giddens.
"Everything takes time," he said. "You have to wait on the autopsy, then
for forensics, for ballistics, and now with Atkins you need to make sure
the defendants IQ is over 70. Then you need to conduct a hearing on that.
Then you have hearings on defense requests for independent DNA,
independent forensic analysis, a psychiatric evaluation, mitigation
"And I'm not saying any of that is wrong, there is no intentional delay
there. But if you're going to be applying the ultimate punishment, you
need to be 100 % ready, out of a sense of fairness for the defendant. Then
afterward, you have the jury recommendation in the sentencing phase, and
then a hearing on that," Giddens said.
"But I believe that obviously the people I have convicted of capital
murder believe in the death penalty, since they had absolutely no problem
executing someone with no due process, no hearings at all. We don't pick
them out of a hat. It's the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime."
(source: Daily Home Online)
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