Appointed February 13 by ousted “Love Gov” and misdemeanant Robert Bentley, Alabama’s Attorney General (AG) Steven Marshall is new on the job.
This could, in theory, be one reason AG Marshall is taking to Twitter, Facebook, and Alabama’s news media to drum up support for the so-called “Fair Justice Act.” He promises the proposed law will speed the state’s executions by hacksawing the amount of time already overwhelmed and underfunded death penalty attorneys have to effectively represent their clients.
Vociferous in his support of the “Fair Justice Act” — a bill there’s nothing fair about — it’s notable and unacceptable that AG Marshall has yet to make any public statement explaining the horrible circumstances of Alabama’s last execution – the horrendously botched execution of Ronald Bert Smith on December 8, 2016; Mr. Smith endured a thirteen-minute death-rattle as lethal injection chemicals ravaged his insides — when he was supposed to be unconscious — heaving, coughing, clenching his fists, moving his lips, and opening his left eye.
Smith’s grisly torture followed Alabama’s January 2016 execution of Christopher Brooks, an execution where questions remain whether, like Smith’s patently brutal and violent poisoning, Brooks too was not properly anesthetized and then burned alive from the inside with caustic chemicals. Other than opaque and blanket denials in court filings, AG Marshall has thus far adopted the same officious silence on the possibility Alabama tortured Brooks to death — just as it did Smith.
Conscientious Alabamians can’t let AG Marshall get away with it.
Conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians who want to ameliorate Alabama’s long, dark history of capital punishment — and its reputation around the world for human and civil rights abuses — must demand AG Marshall investigate and publicly address the circumstances of both Smith and Brooks’ deaths.
Conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians should harangue AG Marshall and the Fair Justice Act’s legislative sponsor, state senator Cam Ward, to answer: Why are you pushing a poorly drafted, unstudied, confusing new death penalty law to speed up executions? Why are you doing it right now — when all available evidence shows the last two executions in Alabama went horribly wrong?
Moreover, although the current version of the bill under consideration by the House of Representatives provides a meager 365 days (provided for by current law) instead of the disastrous proposal of chopping it to 180 days for the filing of post-conviction motions — the shortened time period the bill would impose is still way too short for even the best, most committed, most hard-working lawyers to effectively investigate and litigate motions for death-sentenced clients in Alabama.
That’s because of yet another one of the Fair Justice Acts’ proposed time-accelerators for the filing of these complex Last Chance Not to Be Executed (Tortured) Despite Your Constitutional Rights Having Been Violated-type motions — motions advancing claims of juror misconduct or that the defense lawyer was a train wreck — not infrequent occurrences in capital cases in Alabama.
This additional cockamamie time-accelerator in The Fair Justice Act was deconstructed at the end of last week in a cogent op-ed by Birmingham attorney, Lisa Borden. Borden writes how the bill “would require persons convicted of capital offenses to pursue post-conviction legal claims at the same time the direct appeals from their convictions are being considered.”
Mincing no words, Borden waves the red flag of warning at all folks who care about the Constitution and preventing injustice in Alabama, opining that this “proposal is neither fair nor just, and [it] will only increase the already substantial likelihood that Alabama will execute a wrongfully convicted person … [It] take[s] a long time to untangle the convoluted mess that is created by Alabama’s haphazard rush to send poor people to their deaths.”
Conscientious Alabamians concerned that, like Ray Hinton, freed after a hellacious thirty years on Alabama’s death row proclaiming his innocence, additional innocents might be unjustly thrust towards terrible and inhumane deaths — without an adequate chance to prove their innocence and/or that their constitutional rights were violated — you need to speak up. You need to speak up now!
Demand that instead of potentially innocent, unfairly convicted poor Alabamians, that it be this unprincipled, unconstitutional, blood-thirsty Fair Justice Act that’s killed.
And killed fast.
Top photo a YouTube screen shot of Alabama’s execution chamber
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. His twitter is: @SteveCooperEsq