Weekly Report from the Board Meeting at Holman Prison, 3.9.16
What a rollercoaster week this has been for us at Holman! The Alabama Supreme Court set an execution date for Vernon Madison for May 12th and the Attorney General’s office requested execution dates for Robert Melson and for our Chairman, Ronald B. Smith.
The May 12th date was announced on the very same day as Jefferson County Judge Tracie Todd declared the State’s Death Sentencing which allows judges to override jury recommendations for life unconstitutional. Additionally, in the ruling Todd also noted that Alabama executes more defendants than states five times its size and questioned the election of judges in partisan elections and the danger of bending to political pressures and imposing the death penalty. "Judges in Jefferson County have imposed life-to-death override more than any other county in the state. Many of these overrides occurred during or near an election year," she said. In addition she stated that indigent clients often can't afford counsel and appointments are sometimes influenced by politics. "The old adage, 'you get what you pay for' should not be of consequence when an indigent defendant is in need of effective legal representation ... Locally, it is an 'open secret' that an attorney all too often receives case appointments in the criminal division based on his campaign contribution, and not squarely on his legal expertise," she said. She further noted that there is no uniform system for assigning capital murder cases to judges. "There is evidence that certain high profile cases are assigned to certain judges during election seasons," and added that Alabama's underfunding of the state judiciary violates the constitution. Courtroom security and the ability to have clerks to research legal issues hurts the judges in making their judicial findings, she said. "To make this point clear, expecting a judge charged with administering justice in capital cases without sufficient staffing equates to requiring a surgeon to perform open heart surgery without the aid of a nurse." The State is appealing this ruling, of course!
We are very disappointed that Senator Brewbaker says he’s stepping away from a plan to halt executions in Alabama until mid-2017. “I wish I’d never used the word ‘moratorium,’” said Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, bowing to pressure from the murder victim family group VOCAL and the State.
At Lobby Day we presented copies of 30 petitions signed by Alabama murder victim family members addressed to the legislators in support of moratorium legislation. All too often those of us who know that vengeance will not bring us closure are not heard. We also spoke to Senator Vivian Figures D. Mobile who had cosponsored Senator Brewbaker’s bill to let her know that the moratorium was no longer part of it. Senator Figures, who had been unaware of this development promised that she would speak with Senator Brewbaker and would no longer be a cosponsor if the moratorium were not part of the bill.
Our Advisory Board Member, Judy Collins accompanied our executive director to yesterday’s Alabama Arise’ Lobby Day. Much appreciated!
Meanwhile we are doing our best to cope and thank all who have already reached out to us and to the Governor. You make a difference!1.
See you next week!