Charles Randall Stewart, 60, was convicted of murdering his ex-wife in front of their 6-year-old son on July 16, 1990. He was found guilty and sentenced to death later that same year. The aggravating circumstances included committing murder during a burglary and during a kidnapping.
He was originally sentenced to die by electrocution, but this was changed to lethal injection when Alabama changed the procedure for carrying out executions.
On appeal, the conviction has been held up consistently, but the death sentence has been remanded on three separate occasions by higher courts. The first time, the court ordered that some of the counts of burglary and kidnapping were due to be dismissed. The second time, it was revealed after the fact that the wife of one of the jurors had served on the grand jury that indicted Stewart.
In both cases, the sentencing phase of the trial was redone, and resulted in the death penalty being imposed again.
Unlike other criminal cases in Alabama, a person convicted of a capital crime is subject to a two-fold trial. After guilt has been determined, the same jury must weigh any aggravating or mitigating circumstances the sides might argue. If aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors, then the jury recommends death. If the other way around, the jury recommends life without the possibility of parole.
The jury’s recommendation does not have to be unanimous, and the judge does not have to follow the jury’s recommendation. Alabama is the only state where a judge can do this.
Once a person is convicted, the case is appealed to the state Court of Criminal Appeals. If the verdict and penalty are upheld, it then goes to the state Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is not required to hear the case.
Assuming the conviction and sentence are upheld on direct appeal, as this phase is known, the Rule 32 appeals begin, back in the local circuit court. During this round, evidence that was not available at trial may be introduced, including questions of jurisdiction, effective council and other issues. The process then continues through the state appeals courts and, again, to the U.S. Supreme Court if the Supreme Court chooses to hear the case.
After the Rule 32 appeals, the federal appeals process begins. This phase is designed to ensure that the defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated in any way. These appeals begin with the U.S. Circuit Court in Birmingham, then move to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, and then once more to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It not until all appeals have been exhausted that an execution date will be set. If the case is reversed or remanded at any point along the way during any phase of the appeal, everything starts again in circuit court.
Contact Chris Norwood at firstname.lastname@example.org