In September 2000, John Russell Calhoun was convicted on four counts of capital murder for breaking into the home of 32-year-old Tracy Phillips, killing him and repeatedly raping and sodomizing his wife. He was sentenced to death by a 10-2 juror vote. Since the initial sentencing, Calhoun, 45, has remained in the appeals process.
Phillips’ sister, Melissa Mulkey, said their family is tired of waiting and has planned a rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Montgomery to request a resolution to the case.
“The bottom line is we want a death date, and we’re upset because we haven’t been contacted during the whole appeals process,” Mulkey said. “We also want to stand up for anybody who has lost a family member and has waited 10, 15, 20 years or more. There are a lot of people in Alabama that need closure, and we welcome anybody that would like to be there to support each other.”
Phillips’ family and friends, many of whom live throughout Talladega County, will gather at the Capitol on Friday, Aug. 30, at 2 p.m. Mulkey said they have been granted an hour to hold the rally, where she said they expect to hear answers to their questions from Attorney General Luther Strange or other state officials.
“Since the beginning, we’ve never been allowed to speak up,” Mulkey said. “We weren’t allowed to have pictures of Tracy in the courtroom. We weren’t allowed an impact statement before (Calhoun’s) sentencing. We were supposed to be contacted every time he appealed, and we never were. They’re not keeping in touch with us about his appeals and the verdicts. It’s like they want Tracy’s memory to evaporate, and we’re not going to let that happen.”
The evening of the murder in May 1998, Phillips and his wife and children were at their Coffee Street home when a neighbor called to report a man in their backyard looking into the house, according to testimony given by Deputy Director of the State Office of Prosecution Services Barry Matson in 2009. Matson is a former Talladega County assistant district attorney.
Calhoun — who had approached Phillips’ wife, Loretta, earlier in the day to inquire about items in the family’s upcoming yard sale — suddenly entered the back door holding a pistol. Tracy Phillips fought the intruder as his wife rushed upstairs to protect their children, hiding in a bedroom. Soon after, “a knock on her bedroom door was followed by Tracy saying, "Loretta, open the door, he has a gun to my head,’” Matson’s testimony reads. “Crying, Loretta slowly opened the door to see a beaten and distraught Tracy. Standing behind Tracy was the man she had seen earlier that day.”
Tracy Phillips pleaded for the family’s life and offered money and property to spare them, but Calhoun “announced that he wanted Loretta.”
After Calhoun shot Tracey Phillips in the back of the head, he locked the children in an upstairs room and drug Phillips’ wife downstairs where he raped and sodomized her. She offered him jewelry if he would leave the rest of her family alone. Calhoun took some jewelry and fled. He was found hiding from police several days later.
The average tenure of a death row inmate is 20 years or more, Matson noted. For this reason, the judicial system is “not fair, and not just for us, but anybody,” Mulkey said. “Taxpayers continue to pay to keep these people going who were sentenced to die. You pay for them to be educated, to exercise, to eat, to put a roof over their head.”
She said it is not fair that Calhoun has gotten so many appeals, while her brother’s appeals did nothing to save his life.
“Tracy’s appeals were, ‘Please don’t hurt my family; take my money, take my car, take anything.’ Tracy’s pleas didn’t help him,” Mulkey said. “It didn’t stop his daughter from what she saw. It didn’t stop his wife from being raped and sodomized.”
She said it is time for Calhoun’s death sentence to be carried out for the family to receive closure.
“The Bible says ‘an eye for an eye.’ He shouldn’t have been allowed 15 years, and he shouldn’t be allowed another 15 years,” Mulkey said.
Contact Emily Adams at email@example.com.