Life on Alabama Death Row? 45 convicted killers have served 20 or more years


It has been nearly 37 years since Willene and Carl Nelson were shot and stabbed to death in a robbery at their Blount County home in 1978. Their three children, then ages 10, 13 and 21, were critically wounded but survived, as did the children’s 85-year-old grandmother.

Arthur Lee Giles — who will turn 56 on July 15 — went to Alabama Death Row for the crime in 1979.

Giles is Alabama’s second longest serving death row inmate and one of 45 Alabama inmates who have faced execution for 20 or more years. There have been nine presidential elections since Giles first arrived on death row.

Only William Bush, sentenced in the 1981 shooting death of Montgomery convenience store clerk Larry Dominguez, has served more time on death row than Giles. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, Bush has served 33 years, 10 months, and eight days.

Nearly two years have passed since Alabama executed an inmate, but a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week might pave the way for more executions.

In a 5-4 decision Monday, the court ruled that one of the drugs used in lethal injections does not violate the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.

What does that mean for Alabama?

“The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on the constitutionality of states’ use of lethal injections and death penalty opponents cannot continue to indefinitely delay lawful executions,” Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange stated in a press release issued Monday morning.

“Opponents of lethal injections have repeatedly used court challenges of certain lethal injection drugs as ways to delay or avoid lawful executions,” Strange stated. “The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed our belief that executions using these lethal injection drugs are not cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore are not prohibited under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

There are 189 inmates on Alabama’s death row — all but three are men, according to ADOC. The average age is 39. (The oldest inmate, 80-year-old Walter Leroy Moody, has been on death row since 1997 in the 1989 pipe bomb murder of Judge Robert Vance.)

Forty-five inmates — 24 percent of death row’s population — have faced execution since at least 1995.

That includes:

  • James Edmond McWilliams: Sentenced to death in the 1984 rape, robbery and murder of Patricia Vallery Reynolds, a 22-year-old convenience store clerk shot to death at the store where she worked in Tuscaloosa County.
  • Larry Donald George: Convicted in the 1988 killings of two former next-door neighbors. Authorities say George killed Janice Morris, 29, of Talladega, and Ralph Swann, 24, of Alpine. George’s wife, Geraldine, was shot and paralyzed.
  • Anthony Boyd and Robert Shawn Ingram: Convicted for helping take Gregory Huguley to a baseball park in Munford  in 1993, where he was taped to a bench, soaked with gasoline and burned to death because Huguley owed $200 for cocaine.
  • Steven Wayne Hall and Wayne Holleman Travis: Sentenced to death for the murder of retired school teacher Clarene Haskew, 69, in 1991. She was beaten, strangled and shot twice in the head. A pentagram had been spray painted on a cabinet and the words ”thunder struck” were painted on the floor beside her body.
  • Alonzo Burgess: Sentenced to die for the murders of Sheila Nnodimele and her two daughters, Latoria Long, 14, and Alexis Nnodimele, 8. Burgess also was convicted of attempting to murder 2-year-old Larice Long, Ms. Nnodimele’s son  in Colbert County in 1993. They were fatally beaten and strangled in their home.

How much does it cost to house — and execute — those inmates?

Since 1983, when another U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed Alabama to execute an inmate for the first time since 1965, the average time an inmate has served on death row in Alabama is approximately 16 years, according to ADOC spokesman Bob Horton.

The cost to incarcerate a death row inmate in Alabama is $53 per day. Over the course of 16 years, that comes to roughly $309,732.

That means Alabama has spent approximately $640,742 caring for William Bush.

For Giles, who has served 32 years, five months, and 28 days, that is approximately $628,898. Giles would have been Alabama’s longest serving death row inmate, but his 1979 conviction was overturned and he was again sentenced to death upon his second conviction in the 1990s.

It’s estimated lethal injection drugs run about $100 — the Texas Department of Criminal Justice put the cost of their drug cocktails at $83 in 2011, Forbes.com reported in 2014.

A Seattle University study found that each death penalty prosecution cost an average of $1 million more than a case where the death penalty was not sought, an anti-death penalty organization reported.

Whatever the cost, opponents of the death penalty found some signs of hope in Monday’s ruling that maybe the court will one day find the death penalty cruel and unusual.

“For me what was more significant was the affirmative suggestion by some members of the Court that the constitutionality of the death penalty itself be reconsidered,” Bryan Stevenson, executive director and founder of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative stated in an email to AL.com.

“It’s unfortunate this decision won’t resolve issues surrounding lethal injection we are still litigating in Alabama, but I’m encouraged to see members of the Court warming up to the idea that we may be on the brink of a new era where capital punishment is prohibited.”

AL.com reporters Kent Faulk and Izzy Gould contributed to this report.

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