Reading a recent news report, I saw that The Shoals is way overrepresented when it comes to people on death row. Being convicted of murder is about as serious as it gets in the criminal arena, and death row is a place nobody wants to go. As anAlabama criminal defense attorney, I have represented many individuals accused of murder, homicide or manslaughter. Depending on the circumstances, some people in this situation simply do not deserve the death penalty.
At the time of the article, there were 203 inmates on death row in Alabama. Of those, 10 inmates had committed one or more homicides in Colbert, Franklin or Lauderdale counties. Five of those death row inmates from the Shoals and were there since March 2007. Many are waiting for a decision from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals or Supreme Court.
Although more people have been sentenced to death in Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale in the past 25 months than were sent to death row in the previous 25 years, local prosecutors are not worried the Shoals is becoming a hotbed for violent homicides.
"We're not any more violent than we have ever been," said Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly. "Every murder is violent. I just think juries are just fed up with crime and they are willing to recommend the death penalty where they feel it is warranted. There were capital murder cases here in the past where there was a conviction, but the jury recommended life without parole and the judge upheld the recommendation."
In Alabama, life without the possibility of parole and the death penalty are the only sentencing options for capital murder. Jurors recommend a punishment in capital cases, but the judge is not bound to follow the recommendation.
According to Alabama law, any time a homicide is committed for monetary gain; committed during another felony such as robbery; has more than one victim; the victim was a law enforcement officer; or the victim was younger than 14, it meets the criteria for capital murder in Alabama.
However, it does occur occasionally that when a homicide even meets the criteria for capital murder, the victim's family asks prosecutors to not pursue the death penalty. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the victim's family doesn't believe in the death penalty for moral or religious reasons, or they just don't want to have to spend 15 or 20 years or even more going to appeal hearings for the person convicted of killing a loved one.
Alabama death row has strong Shoals presence, TimesDaily.com, September 14, 2009