Capital punishment remains fairly common in Alabama
by Chris Norwood
Jan 08, 2011 | 18601 views |  9 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Since the last time The Daily Home recounted the Talladega and St. Clair county inmates on Alabama’s death row, five have died. Jerry Paul Henderson, Mario Centobi and John Peoples all died by lethal injection as prescribed by law. The other two, Danial Siebert and Shep Wilson died of natural causes. Centobi waived all of his appeals after his conviction was upheld on direct appeal, and asked to be executed for the murder of Moody Police Officer Keith Turner.
Since the last time The Daily Home recounted the Talladega and St. Clair county inmates on Alabama’s death row, five have died. Jerry Paul Henderson, Mario Centobi and John Peoples all died by lethal injection as prescribed by law. The other two, Danial Siebert and Shep Wilson died of natural causes. Centobi waived all of his appeals after his conviction was upheld on direct appeal, and asked to be executed for the murder of Moody Police Officer Keith Turner.
Recent studies have indicated that, while capital punishment may be in a decline nationally, it still continues to be fairly common in Alabama. The state ranked second behind Texas, with six executions in 2010, and third, behind Texas and Ohio, with five in 2010.

There are currently 203 inmates on death row in Alabama, according to the state Department of Corrections. Of those, 97 are black males, one is a black female, 99 are white males, three are white females and three are males of other ethnicity.

Talladega County juries have sent 12 people to Alabama’s death row, and St. Clair County has sent seven. All of these are males. Five of the inmates from Talladega County are white, as are five of the seven from St. Clair County. The longest serving member of this group, William Ernest Kuenzel of Talladega, was convicted in 1988. The most recent addition, Brandon Michael Kelly of St. Clair County, was sentenced in November.

The Alabama Department of Corrections keeps records of executions going back to 1927. The earliest record of an execution from Talladega County is for Cleveland Malone, a black man executed for rape in February 1931. William Hokes, a black man from St. Clair County, was put to death for murder five months later. Over the next 74 years, only one Talladegan (Julius Jackson, a black man convicted of murder in 1941) was executed and no one convicted in St. Clair County was put to death by the state.

One St. Clair County convict, Mario Centobie, and two from Talladega, Jerry Paul Henderson and John W. Peoples, were all executed within five months of each other in 2005.

Two other Talladega convicts, Shep Wilson and Danial Siebert, died on death row of natural causes. Wilson was awaiting a new trial and Siebert was waiting for an execution date.

None of the Talladega or St. Clair inmates currently has an execution date, meaning all of them are sill somewhere in the appeals process. They are listed here in order of their conviction:

• William Ernest “Billy” Kuenzel, 49, who was convicted of killing Sylacauga convenience store clerk Linda Jean Offer by shooting her in the chest with a shotgun during a robbery in November 1987. Kuenzel says he is innocent.

• Ricky Dale Adkins, 45, who was convicted of killing Birmingham real estate agent Billie Dean Hamilton and dumping the body in St. Clair County. Adkins raped and kidnapped Hamilton before killing her by beating her with a wrench and stabling her; he stole her credit cards afterward. The killing was in January 1988, and Adkins was sentenced to die 11 months later.

• James Charles Lawhorn, 45, who accepted $50 from his aunt to kill her boyfriend, who she said she was afraid of. The aunt, Maxine Walker, was previously sentenced to death as well, but was retried and later sentenced to life in prison. Lawhorn’s death sentence (although not his conviction) was recently overturned, and there will have to be a new sentencing hearing sometime in the future.

• Colon Lavon Guthrie, 53, was convicted of killing Rayford Howard by shooting him with a sawed off shotgun while robbing Howard’s store in St. Clair County. The killing was in February 1988, but Guthrie was not convicted until 1996.

• Charles Randall Stewart, 56, broke into the home of his ex-wife and shot her to death in front of their 6-year-old son in July 1990. He was convicted and sentenced to death in December of that year.

• Mark Allen Jenkins, 43, was convicted of strangling Birmingham waitress Tammy Hoagland to death during the course of a kidnapping and robbery. Hoagland’s body was recovered in St. Clair County in April 1989. Jenkins was sentenced to death in April 1991.

• Derrick Anthony Debruce, 40, and Charles Lee Burton, 55, both sentenced to death for killing Doug Battle during a robbery at the Talladega Auto Zone in August 1991. The victim was ordered to lie down on the floor and then shot in the back at close range. DeBruce pulled the trigger, but Burton planned the robbery. They were convicted in March and May 1992, respectively.

• Larry Donald George, 55, shot three people, including his wife, in February 1988. His wife was left paralyzed and the other two victims died. He was convicted in November 1994.

• Robert Shawn Ingram and Anthony Boyd, both 39, participated in kidnapping Gregory Huguley in Anniston in July 1993 to settle a drug debt. Huguley was driven to a ballpark in Munford where he was duct-taped to a park bench, soaked in gasoline and set on fire. Boyd claims that he held the victim during the kidnapping and helped tape him to the bench but had nothing to do with the murder. A third codefendant is serving life without parole, and a fourth is serving a life sentence after agreeing to testify against the other three. Boyd and Ingram were sentenced in May and June 1995, respectively.

• David Eugene Davis, 52, killed Kenneth Douglas and John Fikes with Douglas’s gun in June 1996. He had come to get the gun initially so he could kill his ex-wife, according to witnesses. After stealing several other weapons that he said he intended to sell for crack cocaine, Davis knocked over a kerosene heater and set the house on fire. He pleaded guilty in 1997 and was sentenced to death.

• Frederick D. Woods, 33, convicted of fatally shooting Roaul Rush Smith during a botched robbery in September 1996. He was sentenced to death a year later.

• Marcus Bernard Williams, 35, was convicted of strangling his neighbor Melanie Dawn Rowell while raping her in her bed at knife point in November 1996 in St. Clair County. Rowell had two small children sleeping in the next room. Williams was sentenced to death in April 1999.

• William A. “Corky’ Snyder, 48, was convicted of beating Dixie Gaither and Carey Milton Gaither to death, then fatally shooting Nancy Burkhalter in August 1995. Several items from the home were found in Snyder’s residence or had been pawned by him. He was sentenced to death in April 2000. Snyder maintains that he is innocent.

• John Russell “Cody” Calhoun, 42, convicted of breaking into the home of Tracy Phillips, killing him and repeatedly raping and sodomizing Phillips’ wife. He was sentenced to death in September 2000 in Talladega County.

• Jimmy Lee Brooks, 31, was sentenced to death by a Talladega County jury only because the trial of his codefendant had drawn so much attention in Lee County, where it occurred. Brooks and his codefendant broke into a home, stole a safe, then killed the young boy that lived, slashed the father’s throat and dumped them both into a shallow grave. The father survived the attack and called the police. Brooks was sentenced to death in April 2004.

• Wakillii Brown, 35, killed his girlfriend, Cherae Jemison, and her mother, Dotty Jemison, by striking both women in the head multiple times with what appeared to be a hammer. The murders took place at the Sylacauga home where all three were living at the time, in early March 2001. Brown took the three children in the house and fled to Ohio in Cherae Jemison’s car. He was arrested in Ohio without incident, and sentenced to death in May 2008.

• Brandon Michael Kelley, 30, convicted of strangling Emily Milling to death. Kelley confessed to disposing of the body, but said he was trying to purchase cocaine when Milling was killed. He was sentenced to death in November 2010.

Alabama law defines a capital offense as an intentional murder with at least one aggravating circumstance. These aggravating circumstances include murders committed during a kidnapping, robbery, rape, sodomy, sexual abuse, arson or burglary; murder of any on-duty law enforcement officer or corrections officer; a murder committed by someone already serving a life sentence; contract murder; murder through the use of explosives; the killing of two or more people by one act or in one course of conduct; killing of a current or former state or federal official related to his official capacity; murder committed while unlawfully attempting to take control of an aircraft; murder by a defendant with a previous murder conviction in the last 20 years; murder of a witness in any judicial proceeding to prevent that witness from testifying; and the murder of a child less than 14 years old. Murder by shooting into an occupied dwelling and shooting into or from a vehicle are also capital crimes, but due to a loophole in the criminal code, are not currently punishable by death.

Following the arrest, a capital case generally proceeds the same way any other felony case does, until the jury has delivered a guilty verdict. Sentencing is normally at the sole discretion of the judge, but in a capital case, the jury must weigh the aggravating circumstances against any mitigating circumstances the defense might wish to put on. In the sentencing phase, the jury’s recommendation does not have to be unanimous, but at least 10 out of the 12 must vote for the death penalty in order to make that recommendation to the judge.

The judge is not bound by the jury’s recommendation, however, and may still impose a sentence of death or life without parole as he sees fit.

After conviction of a capital offense, according to a guide published by the state Attorney General’s Office, the case is automatically appealed to the state Court of Criminal Appeals. If the conviction and sentence are upheld, they may be appealed to the state Supreme Court and then the United States Supreme Court. These appeals are not automatic, and the higher courts do not have to hear them. This phase is referred to as the direct appeal. The direct appeal is limited to the issues brought up at trial.

Once the direct appeals have been exhausted, the collateral, or Rule 32, appeal process begins.

The Rule 32 appeal returns the defendant to the circuit court where he was convicted, and at this point issues that were not raised at trial, including issues of jurisdiction, assistance of counsel and new evidence that would not have been available at trial are shown. Evidence that was considered at trial or that reasonably could have been but was not, is not allowed in this phase of the appeal.

Lawhorn was recently granted a new sentencing phase during his Rule 32 appeal.

If the conviction and sentence are once again upheld in circuit court, then that ruling may also be appealed to the state Court of Criminal Appeals, the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. Again, there are strict time limits, and the higher courts are not required to hear the appeal.

After the Rule 32 appeals are exhausted and the conviction and death sentence still stand, the federal appeals begin. At this point, the convicted is arguing some violation of his constitutional rights. In Talladega and St. Clair counties, the first round of appeals would be heard at the U.S. District Court in Birmingham.

If the District Court rules against the defendant, the next step is to appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At any phase of the appeals process, a higher court can strike down either the conviction or the sentence and order either a new trial or a new sentencing phase. Several of the defendants above have been convicted two or three times of the same offense. If they are convicted again, then the appeals process starts over.