|Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley|
For decades Alabama death row inmates died in the state's electric chair and it was rare for a governor to commute a sentence then or now
As he prepared himself for death in his final years, Alabama Gov. George Wallace worried that he might be kept from heaven by 2 actions in his life:
One was his military service aboard a U.S. bomber during World War II tasked with bombing Japanese cities -- an action that Wallace knew killed thousands of civilians.
The other was his final decisions to allow executions by electric chair of death row inmates when he had the power to stop it.
Gov. Fob James was known to almost always be in a foul mood on days when a state execution was scheduled during his time as governor.
James always allowed the death sentence to be carried out until his very last day in office in mid-January of 1999. It was then, as his final act as governor, he commuted the death sentence of Judith Ann Neelley to life in prison for the sexual assault and murder of a 13-year-old girl.
Even though Neelley was not facing execution soon, an aide said James did not want to awake one day to read that a woman had been put to death, one he had the power to save.
Gov. Don Siegelman, a former Alabama attorney general and strong pro-death penalty advocate, required his staff to go through a rigorous review of each death row inmate's case as they approached their execution. An aide said Siegelman's central question was always "Is there anything that points to the conclusion that the person didn't do it?"
Gov. Bob Riley, not long in office in 2003, became the 1st governor to walk the hallway between cells along death row and visit the death chamber where he watched a mocked execution. During that mock execution Riley kept looking at the ceiling in the chamber. Later he said he wanted to burn into his mind the last view that inmates brought there would have as they died.
During his walk along death row, inmates called out to Riley to have mercy on them and commute their sentences.
He never did.
By the time his 2 terms were over in 2011, 25 inmates had been put to death but friends and associates say that experience has weighed on him till this day.
Today, Gov. Robert Bentley is dealing with another execution in Alabama, the state's 1st since 2013.
Barring intervention by the governor or even a more unlikely intervention by the courts, inmate Christopher Brooks will be executed at Holman Prison at 6 p.m. Brooks was convicted in 1992 for the rape and beating death of Jo Deann Campbell in Jefferson County.
In 2011 Bentley was about to start his first term and said he would not have a problem carrying out the death penalty. As it turns out, all 6 executions during his 5 years in office have been difficult, Bentley said.
"Have they weighed on me?" Bentley asked. "Yes they have. Very much so. And they should. We are talking about a human life in each case."
In 1 case Bentley was so unsure about his decision to commute or allow the execution to proceed that he cried as he wrestled with it. Then he prayed.
Then he allowed the execution to proceed.
Wallace, James, Siegelman, Riley, Bentley -- all pro death penalty governors who have struggled to come to terms with the greatest power their office gave them: the power over life and death.
In the 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the moratorium on the death penalty only James has commuted the death sentence of an inmate on Alabama's death row. And he did it, an aide said, because he deeply believed the state should not use its ultimate power to execute women.
An aide to Wallace in his later years said the former segregationist governor was not troubled about the afterlife as it related to the role he played in inciting racial turmoil.
"The governor had apologized for what he did when it came to all the bad segregationist days and actions. He had sought forgiveness from those he had hurt and felt he had been forgiven," an aide said.
Bentley, who before he became governor was a physician, said he will approach today's pending execution the way he has approached all 6 previous executions.
"My people look at the trial, the evidence. They go over the crime looking for any evidence the person didn't do it and to make sure the process was carried out correctly" said Bentley. "Then they come to me, and we review it."
Bentley said the process is always a serious one because a life hangs in the balance.
"I took an oath to uphold the law of the state and the law allows the death penalty in certain cases," said Bentley. "Ultimately a jury makes a decision to impose the death sentence and my duty is to carry out that sentence barring a case of extraordinary circumstances."
Source: al.com, January 20, 2016
Death row inmates in Alabama spend an average of 14 years awaiting execution
In 2011, Christopher Thomas Johnson was executed by the state of Alabama for the murder of his 6-month old son.
Johnson's death came 6 years after the Atmore man was convicted of suffocating the infant in an act meant to spite his wife. The short period of time from Johnson's conviction to execution is not the norm, however. Statistics show most inmates on Alabama's death row spend more than a decade awaiting execution.
Data from the Alabama Department of Corrections shows the average death row inmate in the state has been awaiting execution for 14 years. Alabama's average is within the national norm. For prisoners who are put to death, the average wait time in the U.S. is 16.5 years, up from 6r45 years in the mid-1980s.
By their nature, death penalty cases move slowly through the trial phase and then trigger multiple appeals that can grind the process to a halt. In Johnson's case, time on death row was short because he pleaded guilty to capital murder, waived all appeals and requested to be put to death.
In most death row cases, the emphasis is on delaying or preventing the execution and not speeding it up. Of the 187 inmates on Alabama's death row, 27 have been there for more than 20 years; 132 of them have been there more than 10 years.
Alabama inmate Arthur Lee Giles went to Alabama's death row in 1979 for the murders of Wilene and Carl Nelson in Blount County. Another inmate, William Bush, has been on death row since 1982 for the shooting death of Montgomery convenience store clerk Larry Dominguez.
Death row inmate Christopher Brooks, who is scheduled to be executed Thursday night at Holman Prison, was convicted in December 1992 for the rape and beating death of Jo Deann Campbell in Jefferson County. He was 21 when he was sentenced to death row. He is now 43.
His execution would be Alabama's 1st since 2013 and the 1st to use the state's new 3-drug combination for lethal injections.
Nationally, 49.8 % of inmates executed since 2010 served more than 20 years; 17 % served more than 25 years; 5 inmates were killed after delays of more than 35 years. The vast majority of those sentenced to death are never executed.
Even death row inmates who are exonerated spend years awaiting execution before they are cleared, according to the Innocence Project, which estimates the average exoneration takes places after 14 years on death row.
The delay between conviction and execution has been questioned by courts before. Last summer, a federal appeals court found that delays in California - where more prisoners have died on death row than have been executed - did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
Source: al.com, January 20, 2016
Vigils held statewide ahead of Christopher Brooks execution
A number of vigils are set throughout the state on Thursday in connection with the Alabama's 1st execution in 2 years.
Barring any last minute stays, death row inmate Christopher Eugene Brooks is set to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. in the execution chamber at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. Brooks, now 43, was convicted in the December 1992 rape and murder of a Homewood woman, 23-year-old Jo Deann Campbell.
Investigators linked Brooks to the crime through DNA, fingerprints, and Campbell's car and other items taken from her Homewood apartment, including a credit card he had used. Her partially clothed body had been found under her bed and she had been beaten with a barbell.
Brooks would be the 57th death row inmate executed in Alabama since executions resumed in 1983 after an unofficial more than decade-long nationwide moratorium ended.
Officials with Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, an Alabama advocacy group, say that there will be a number of Alabama vigils held throughout the day:
In Mobile, there will be a prayer vigil from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in front of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at Dauphin Street at Claiborne Street.
In Montgomery, there will be a vigil on the steps of the state capitol at 5:30 p.m.
There are 2 vigils scheduled in Birmingham. The 1st will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the corner of Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard and 8th Avenue North across from the Jefferson County Court Building.
A 2nd prayer vigil will be held at 5:45 p.m. opposite the Martin Luther King Jr. statue at Kelly Ingram Park, off 16th Street North and 6th Avenue North. This vigil will take place whether there is a stay or not.
Inside the prison, the inmates will show their respect and solidarity by refraining from sports and wearing their dress whites in the yard when they observe moments of silence and prayer on Wednesday and Thursday.
In France, Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture and the Death Penalty will be praying ahead of the execution.
And, the Birmingham Friends Meeting building, 4413 5th Avenue South, hangs a black flag from an upstairs window facing the street on all execution dates in the U.S. stating: TODAY WE MOURN THE DEATH OF A FELLOW HUMAN BEING.
Source: al.com, January 20, 2016
"I forgive him": Family of Jo Deann Campbell opens up before her killer's execution
Brooks was convicted of raping, robbing and murdering Jo Deann Campbell in her Homewood apartment in 1992. She was 23 years old.
Days before the scheduled execution, Jo Deann's older sister, Corinne Campbell, received a Facebook message from a close friend of Jo Deann's.
The message contained an audio recording of Jo Deann's outgoing message on her answering machine.
"Hi! It's that time of year again. I want to wish you and all a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah and a happy new year," the cheerful voice chimes.
"It brings 2 feelings," Corinne Campbell said. "It brings one of just like - chilling, and one of just, wow! That's really her. And that was 23 years ago.
"It's difficult to describe. She's just full of life and loved people, and people loved her."
The message would eventually become one piece of what Campbell calls "overwhelming" evidence that Brooks killed her sister.
It happened on Dec. 30, 1992.
Brooks, who'd met Jo Deann Campbell when they worked at nearby summer camps, paid her a visit, unannounced.
Corinne Campbell said Jo Deann and Brooks never had a romantic relationship, and that Jo Deann was known for staying in touch with her friends from camp.
Jo Deann was working as a training manager at Chili's on Highway 280, when Brooks and a friend, Robert Leeper, dropped in.
Campbell said Jo Deann agreed to let Brooks and Leeper spend the night at her apartment in Homewood.
The next day, Jo Deann did not show up for work.
Campbell remembers the moment when police found her sister's body, bludgeoned, naked from the waist down, and shoved under her bed.
"You just lose every ounce of everything, when policemen saw the body under the bed and said, 'Everyone out,' Campbell said.
It took investigators a few days to find their suspects.
"Anyone that came in the house, I just - I just remember thinking, 'My gosh! Did you do this? Do you know anything about this?' Campbell said. "I just kind of remember just being real suspicious of everyone that came around, even though they loved her and had nothing to do with it. It just was a kind of edgy time."
Campbell said police used a credit card that Leeper and Brooks had taken from Jo Deann to catch them in Columbus, GA, where they lived.
Campbell said Leeper and Brooks stole Jo Deann's car and several objects from her apartment, including her answering machine. She said the 2 men had recorded their own outgoing message, but when police flipped the tape over, they heard Jo Deann's cheerful greeting.
Leeper was sentenced to time served in jail, and was released after pleading guilty to using Campbell's credit card.
He was cleared of his murder charge, as investigators found no DNA evidence linking him to Jo Deann's rape or killing.
While Brooks awaits his execution, his lawyers have sought multiple appeals and stays, but none have been granted.
On Wednesday, Brooks's attorneys petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, while the Diocese of Birmingham asked Governor Robert Bentley to stay the execution.
"He has a right to do that, and if it's granted, it's granted. We'll live through it," Campbell said. "We've lived through 23 years of missing (Jo Deann), so we'll live through another however many years it is of whatever it takes to end this."
When asked if she felt justice was being done, Campbell said she was not sure.
"I have to say that I've never been a big proponent of the death penalty. I don't know that I ever will be, but it is what it is, and it's fair," Campbell said.
Campbell said while she and her family will be in Atmore, near the Holman Correctional Facility, where Brooks will be put to death, she is unsure whether or not the family will witness the execution.
But Campbell knows what her last words to Brooks would be: "I forgive you."
"I think all of us would love to hear him say, 'I did this. I'm sorry.' But that may not ever come, and that's probably reality," Campbell said. "So I forgive him. I did that a long time ago. It's the only way I can live, to get through every day, is just to forgive him."
Source: WIAT news, January 20, 2016