Alabama Supreme Court

SCOTUS rejects case of Alabama Death Row inmate who claims racial discrimination in jury picks


December 4, 2017

Christopher Floyd

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling issued today, refused to hear the appeal of Alabama Death Row inmate Christopher Anthony Floyd, who says prosecutors struck 10 of 11 blacks from the jury pool at his trial.

Floyd appealed earlier this year to the U.S. Supreme Court after a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court last year.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision came despite a previous U.S. Supreme Court order that told the Alabama court to take another look at Floyd’s case in light of a similar case in Georgia – Foster v. Chatman. In the 2016 appeal of that case, SCOTUS reversed a conviction for discriminatory jury selection involving prosecutors’ striking blacks from the jury pool.

However, the Alabama Supreme Court in November 2016 concluded that the Foster case did not require a change in the outcome of Floyd’s case, and again affirmed Floyd’s conviction. Floyd then turned again to SCOTUS.

In 2005, Floyd was convicted in Houston County for the murder and robbery of Waylon Crawford. Floyd was sentenced to death.

In selecting the jury for Floyd’s case, the prosecutor and Floyd’s lawyers exercised a total of 36 peremptory challenges, according to the state supreme court order. Prosecutors used its 18 challenges to remove 10 of 11 African-American venire members and 12 of 18 female venire members. Floyd’s lawyers removed one African-American and seven female venire members. The final jury consisted of six white male jurors, six white female jurors, two alternate white male jurors and one alternate African-American female juror.

Floyd, who is white, did not object to the jury based on Batson v. Kentucky– a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting racial discrimination in jury selection, court records show.

In Monday’s rejection of Floyd’s appeal, SCOTUS did not render an opinion. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with which Associate Justice Stephen Breyer concurs, issued a statement.

“Although the unique context of Floyd’s case counsels against review by this Court, I find the underlying facts sufficiently troubling to note that in the ordinary course, facts like these likely would warrant a court’s intervention,” Sotomayor wrote. “During voir dire, the Houston County District Attorney’s Office exercised peremptory challenges against 10 out of 11 qualified African-American venire members, and used 12 of its 18 strikes against women. The prosecutor also marked the letter “‘B,’ as in black,” next to the name of each potential African-American juror.”

“That we have not granted certiorari should not be construed as complacence or an affirmance of all of the reasoning of the courts below,” Sotomayor wrote. “The unusual posture in which Floyd raised his Batson and J. E. B. claims warrants caution in the exercise of the Court’s review here. Yet, courts reviewing claims in circumstances like these must be steadfast in identifying, investigating, and correcting for improper bias in the jury selection process. Such discrimination “‘casts doubt on the integrity of the judicial process,’ and places the fairness of a criminal proceeding in doubt.”

Howell vs Florida – Supreme court Opinion february 20, 2014


Supreme Court of Florida
____________
No. SC14-167
____________
PAUL AUGUSTUS HOWELL
                          Appellant,
vs.
STATE OF FLORIDA,
Appellee.

[February 20, 2014

PER CURIAM.
Paul Augustus Howell is a prisoner under sentence of death for whom a death warrant has been signed and execution set for February 26, 2014. Howell was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death when the bomb he constructed, for the specific purpose of killing a witness, instead detonated and killed a Florida Highway PatrolTrooper.Howell v. State, 707  So. 2d 674, 683 (Fla. 1998) (affirming Howell’s convictions and death sentence on direct appeal).
Howell now appeals the denial of his amended third successive motion for postconviction relief, filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.851, in which he challenges the Florida lethal injection protocol as applied to him.
Read the full opinion : click here

1st Alabama. execution since 2011 set for Thursday


July 20, 2013

This March 18, 2009 photo provided by the Alabama Dept. of Corrections shows inmate Andrew Reid Lackey. Alabama’s second execution in almost two years is scheduled for Thursday, July 25, 2013 at Holman Prison in Atmore, Ala.. Court records show that 30-year-old Andrew Lackey asked the state to set his execution date, and Alabama has not taken action to stop it. Photo: Alabama Dept. Of Corrections

MONTGOMERY, Ala.  — Alabama’s second execution in almost two years is scheduled for Thursday at Holman Prison in Atmore.

Court records show that 30-year-old Andrew Lackey asked the state to set his execution date, and has not taken action to stop it.

Lackey is scheduled to die by lethal injection at Holman Prison in Atmore for the beating and shooting death of 80-year-old Charles Newman during a 2005 Halloween night robbery at Newnan’s home in Limestone County. Lackey is to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Lackey would be the first inmate executed in Alabama since Christopher T. Johnson of Escambia County received a lethal injection Oct. 20, 2011. He was the sixth inmate executed in 2011.

The state’s executions have been slowed partly because of a legal dispute over the drugs used in executions.

Lackey’s execution was set after he wrote a letter to the Alabama Supreme Court saying that he had “an odd request.”

“Please set me an execution date. I do not wish to pursue any further appeals for my death sentence,” Lackey said in the letter to the justices, according to court records. Lackey said he would not file any further appeals.

Court records show Lackey has taken no action to stop the execution.

In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Richard Anderson, Lackey says, “I do not know what else I can do. Will you please help me get an execution date.”

Court records show that Newman made an emergency phone call to the Athens Police Department on Halloween night 2005 in which he could be heard saying, “Don’t do that,” ”Leave me alone” and “What do you want.”

The police operator then heard the apparent assailant repeatedly ask, “Where’s the vault?” according to the records.

Bryan Stevenson, an attorney with the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, said both the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the trial court have ruled that the state can go ahead with Lackey’s execution.

Stevenson said he and other attorneys opposed to Lackey being executed and “have argued that he is mentally ill.”

“Our point is that he needs to be examined,” Stevenson said.

Death row inmate Jason Sharp, convicted in 1999 Madison County slaying, to get new case review


NOVEMBER 1, 2012 http://blog.al.com

The Alabama Supreme Court wants the state’s criminal appeals court to take another look at the case of Jason Sharp, who is on death row after being convicted of the 1999 rape and murder of Tracy Morris.

The case took years to go to trial before Sharp was convicted in 2006.

The appeals process has bounced back and forth from various Alabama courts since Sharp’s lawyers alleged prosecutors improperly struck black would-be jurors from the jury pool.

jason sharp.JPGJason Sharp is led from Judge Laura Hamilton’s courtroom by Madison County Sheriff deputies from left, Sgt. Emmanuel Simmons, E.T. Burrows and Avery Miller after being sentenced to the death penalty Thursday Sept. 14, 2006 for the murder of Tracy Morris. (The Huntsville Times/Robin Conn)Brian Lawson | blawson@al.com

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors must have race-neutral reasons for striking jurors. Both Sharp and Morris are white.

The state’s high court today denied a request by the State of Alabama to reconsider its order from last month, directing the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to allow Sharp’s attorneys and the state to file new briefs on the issue of whether Sharp received a fair trial.

The dispute centers the complaint by Sharp’s attorneys that the prosecution improperly struck all but two of 13 potential jurors who were African American. The defense struck the other two black potential jurors.

In December 2009, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned the conviction andordered a hearing before Circuit Judge Laura Hamilton, who presided over Sharp’s trial. The court required prosecutors to spell out their reasons for striking black jurors. If the prosecution, led by Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard failed to persuade the trial court that the juror strikes were proper, Sharp would be entitled to a new trial.

The hearing was held and Hamilton ruled in June 2010 that prosecutors did not discriminate in picking a jury. The prosecution had argued a number of the black potential jurors said they opposed or would be reluctant to impose the death penalty, or didn’t appear to have the professional or social “sophistication” to comprehend technical DNA evidence.

Broussard said he struck twice as many white potential jurors based on the DNA issue and has insisted there was no discrimination in the Sharp case.

The sophistication argument was ridiculed by the defense for appearing to suggest the jurors weren’t intelligent enough. And in one instance, a woman with a bachelor’s degree from Alabama A&M University was excluded, the defense argued, but two white jurors with no college education did make the jury.

The case took another turn in February 2011, when the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the prosecution had discriminated against the black members of the jury pool and said Sharp was entitled to a new trial.

But in February of this year, the same court, though with a slightly different make-up,reversed its decision from the previous year and said prosecutors did not discriminate.

That ruling was appealed by Sharp’s lawyers to the Alabama Supreme Court. The court ruled Oct. 18, that the lower court must let the two sides provide briefs to the appeals court on the issue of whether Hamilton’s ruling was correct that the prosecution did not discriminate against members of the jury pool.

ALABAMA – Mental retardation finding may save convicted Jefferson County murderer from death sentence


June 8, 2012 Source : http://blog.al.com

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — A Jefferson County murderer who served more than four years on Death Row then won a new trial and was reconvicted, may avoid a second death sentence after a state expert found he was mentally retarded, a hearing revealed today.

Esaw Jackson, 33, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007 for a shooting the year earlier in Ensley that killed a woman and a teenager and wounded the mother’s two teen children.

A Jefferson County jury also convicted him of capital murder in 2011, and recommended a sentence of death in a 10-2 vote.

Pre-sentence testing ordered by Circuit Judge Stephen Wallace, the judge in the current trial, determined Jackson had an IQ of 56, well below the normal legal threshold for mental retardation, which is a 70 IQ.

The U.S. Supreme Court has banned executing mentally retarded murderers.

In today’s hearing, prosecutor Mike Anderson asked for more time to obtain and examine Jackson’s school records for evidence of mental retardation, another indicator courts use to determine if the death penalty should be barred.

Wallace set a July 13 hearing, and said he wants to set the final sentencing after Anderson reports back.

If the assessment holds that Jackson is mentally retarded, “the sentence would have to be life without parole,” said one of Jackson’s lawyer, Erskine Mathis.

Judges in capital cases are not bound by the jury’s sentencing recommendation, but in most cases Alabama judges have overridden the jury’s recommendation of life without parole and imposed death instead.

Fewer than 10 percent of the judicial overrides have resulted in the lesser capital sentence, according to the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery.

Jackson was 27 when he fired a rifle at least 15 times into a car stopped at a traffic light on 19th Street and Avenue V. Killed were Pamela Montgomery, 42, and Milton Poole III, 16. Montgomery’s children, Shaniece Montgomery, then 19, and Denaris Montgomery, then 17, were wounded.

The jury in Jackson’s original trial also recommended death in a 10-2 vote, and then-Circuit Judge Gloria Bahakel sentenced him to death. The Alabama Supreme Court overturned his convictionand sentence in 2011, citing improper testimony in the 2007 trial.

Four years after watching his mother and best friend die, Denaris Montgomery committed a murder himself, and now is serving a 21-year prison term.

ALABAMA – Larry Smith. Marshall County Man Set Free; Was Once On Death Row


april, 6  sourcehttp://whnt.com

A Marshall County man was released from jail Friday after serving more than 17 years in prison.  He was even on Alabama’s death row for capital murder.

Larry Randell Smith hugged his mother, Sherry Miller, as soon as he walked out of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office.  Other friends waited to greet him.

Smith was convicted in August 1996 of the September 1994 robbery and shooting death of his friend, Dennis Harris.

He appealed, and his conviction and death sentence was upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court in 1999.

Smith continued to appeal, and in 2010, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously ruled that he had an ineffective attorney defending him.

On Friday, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery in the first degree.

District Attorney Steve Marshall said prosecutors are comfortable with the resolution because the victim’s mother, Diane Maier, believes it is appropriate.

“The mother of the victim, who sat through the original trial as well as the [capital punishment hearing], firmly believed that Larry Smith did not pull the trigger and kill her son,” Marshall said.

“She believed he was involved, but also believes that Larry Smith can help that family determine who else was involved in the murder of her son.  She felt it was very important that that be part of what happened.”

Maier is in poor health and was not present for this court appearance, but affirmed her support for Smith during a phone call with prosecutors Friday morning.

The district attorney said the plea agreement was also due to a lack of evidence.

“This is a murder case that’s almost 20 years old,” said Marshall. “For us to be able to go back and retry it was next to impossible.”

“I think any time you have delay in the prosecution of cases, it is to the disadvantage of the prosecution,” Marshall added.  “It was a significant disadvantage in this case to have the facts presented to us almost 20 years later to have to deal with it.”

Prosecutors said some witnesses do not recall the circumstances of of their trial testimony before, and there are witnesses who have changed their testimony from what they initially told law enforcement.

Marshall said the investigation into the murder of Dennis Harris will continue, and as part of the plea agreement, Larry Smith will be interviewed further by investigators.

“One of the things that was important to [Harris’ mother] is that Mr. Smith be released to be able to cooperate with law enforcement,” Marshall said.

“Mr. Smith’s lawyers have had an investigator working on this case for several years. They have information that otherwise law enforcement did not have available to them previously that they have been willing to provide and are obligated to provide.”

Larry Smith said he is ready to move forward with life after serving 17 years and 5 months in prison, much of it on death row.

“I’m just glad it’s over and I’m ready to go home,” he said.

Smith’s mother said she is ready to fix her son a home-cooked meal for the first time in nearly two decades.

“I’m on top of the world, I thank God for this, for his freedom,” Smith’s mother said.

“It’s been miserable. I can’t say the words of what I’ve been through. It’s been so depressing.

“I knew all these years my son was innocent. Something he did not do.”

Miller said her relationship with the victim’s mother has helped her through it.

“We’ve been good friends through all these years, she’s been wonderful support,” Miller said about Diane Maier.

“She knows that my son was innocent. She never had no doubts. From day one she knew he was innocent.”

Smith and Miller said they hope to soon go camping and fishing together.