Lawyers look to Alabama Supreme Court on juvenile killer sentences after legislature fails to act

By Kent Faulk | kfaulk@al.com 
May 21, 2013 at 6:13 PM

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – How Alabama judges will handle the sentencing of juveniles convicted of capital murder – for at least the immediate future — now appears to be in the hands of the Alabama Supreme Court after the Alabama Legislature failed to enact a bill addressing the issue.

A bill had been pending in the state legislature to address a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama last June that bars automatic no-parole sentences for juvenile killers. The session ended Monday with no final action on the bill.

“We were very disappointed that the legislature didn’t act,” said Wendell Sheffield, the attorney for one of the teens awaiting trial on capital murder charges in the deaths of five people at a house in Ensley. “We have an act that’s unconstitutional. We have a client who is in jail on a no-bond.”

Sheffield is among several attorneys who have asked local circuit judges to toss out the capital murder indictments against their teen clients after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Those teens include:

 Rashad Stoves (Sheffield’s client), one of three teens indicted on capital murder charges in the January 2012 shooting deaths of five men at a house in the Ensley Highlands neighborhood of Birmingham. Stoves was 17 at the time of the shooting.

– Larry Henderson was indicted on a capital murder charge in the June 6, 2010, shooting death of Alex Rogers, 69, after a dispute in Ensley. Henderson was 16 years old at the time of the shooting. Another man, Detrick McGee, also was charged in Rogers’ death but McGee was 18 at the time of that shooting.

– Andrew Amison, was 17 when Mobile police arrested him on allegations that he participated in the robbery and killing of Sam Richardson inside in Main Street Barbershop on Nov. 22, 2011. Last month Amison’s attorney asked Mobile County Circuit Judge Robert Smith to throw out the capital murder charge.

Judges denied the requests in the Stoves and Henderson cases. In March Sheffield and Donald Colee, who represents Henderson, argued their appeals to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The Alabama Supreme Court had not ruled in the appeal as of today in the Stoves and Henderson appeals. “I think everybody was thinking they (Supreme Court justices) were waiting on the legislature” to address the issue first, Sheffield said.

“We are definitely looking for some action on their (Alabama Supreme Court) part,” Sheffield said. “Everybody’s in limbo.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 had ruled that juveniles cannot face the death penalty. Since then when juveniles in Alabama have been convicted of capital murder, they have automatically been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole _ the only other option remaining under Alabama’s capital punishment law.

But in last year’s ruling the U.S. Supreme Court said that judges must have options to sentence juveniles to something other than life without the possibility of parole.

Many attorneys and judges believed the Alabama Legislature would enact a bill that would deal with the issue. The bill introduced in the 2013 state legislative session, which ended Monday, called for giving judges the option of sentencing a juvenile convicted of capital murder to life, with one shot at parole after 40 years.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who had sponsored the bill in the Alabama Senate, stated in an email this afternoon that the reason the bill didn’t pass was mainly because it got caught up “in the procedural log jam of the last day.”

“Also, you had some people who wanted to make it 70 years instead of 40 which in my opinion would have been unconstitutional,” Ward stated.

Sheffield said that if the Alabama Supreme Court were to grant their appeal in the quest to have the capital murder indictment tossed out, he believes the state prosecutors would move “very, very, quickly” to charge Stoves with murder.

If the Alabama Supreme Court were to rule against them, however, it would basically leave the question in place about what state judges can do in sentencing teens convicted of capital murder, Sheffield said. If that happened, they would continue the appeal, he said.

“We’re not going to let this drop,” Sheffield said.

If the bill had been approved, Sheffield said they would have challenged it anyway. One shot at parole after 40 years only gave “lip service, not substance” to the U.S.

“I think courts in this jurisdiction need direction from the Supreme Court of Alabama in how they need to proceed,” Sheffield said.

Tommy Nail, the presiding Jefferson County Circuit Court criminal judge, said today that the judges and lawyers are “left to our own devices” and will have wait until the Alabama Supreme Court renders a decision.

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About Aaron Law Firm

Aaron Law Firm handles criminal cases in city, state and federal courts in the state of Alabama. If you are accused of a crime it has to be taken seriously, even accusation of a crime can have serious effect on many different areas of your life. If it is a DUI or something more serious it has to be taken as a threat to your freedom. After you have been accused of a crime, you should always consult a lawyer before talking to the authorities . Seek immediate legal counsel and make sure your rights are protected.

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