Alabama legislature passes bill making murder of on-duty first responder a capital offense
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday concurred with the Senate-passed version of HB 59, the bill that would make killing an on-duty first responder a capital offense.
Sponsored by State Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), HB 59 unanimously passed the House previously.
The Senate last week then amended and unanimously passed the bill. The amendment brought by the Lee County delegation names the proposed law in honor of slain Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner, who was shot and killed in the line of duty last Sunday night.
Tuesday’s concurrence by the House means the bill has achieved final passage in the legislature and now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk for her signature.
The bill adds on-duty first responders to the list of murder victims that constitutes a capital offense. State law already makes the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer or prison guard a capital offense.
Note the difference between a Class A felony murder charge and a capital murder charge: capital offenses in Alabama are punishable (unless the defendant was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime) by life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. Class A felonies are punishable by 10-99 years in prison, with stricter guidelines for offenders with prior criminal convictions.
Sells’ bill would also add on-duty law enforcement officers, prison guards and first responders as victims in the list of aggravating circumstances to a capital offense. This would make the death penalty more likely in the sentencing phase of this kind of capital offense.
In HB 59, first responders are defined as emergency medical services personnel licensed by the Alabama Department of Public Health and firefighters and volunteer firefighters as defined by existing state law.
Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes has said he will seek the death penalty if the man charged with Buechner’s death is convicted on a capital murder charge.
Sells has sponsored this bill the past two legislative sessions, ever since the infamous deadly 2016 ambush of police officers in Dallas, TX. Last year, it passed the House and was the next bill up on the Senate calendar for a vote when the chamber adjourned sine die.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn