2 weeks ago

Alabama legislature passes bill to reform ‘badly broken’ Board of Pardons and Paroles

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly gave final passage to a bill that would provide much-needed reform of the beleaguered state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

HB 380, sponsored by State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper), would be a comprehensive overhaul of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The legislation would specifically mandate that individuals convicted of certain violent offenses (Class A felonies) serve 85% of his or her sentence before being eligible for parole. Current law only stipulates that violent offenders serve one-third or 10 years of his or her sentence, whichever is less, unless a unanimous vote of the board rules otherwise.

State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) carried the bill in the Senate. Ward is well known for being a leading bipartisan criminal justice and corrections reform advocate in the state legislature.

The legislation, which now heads to the governor’s desk, was crafted by Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office in response to reports in the fall that the board was releasing dangerous felons back onto the street long before their sentences were up. Marshall has called the board “badly broken.”

One egregious example that the attorney general pointed to in a video released this spring was that of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who is now charged with three murders in Marshall’s home county after he was released by the Board of Pardons and Paroles while serving a life sentence.

In fact, the state last week announced that it will pay the maximum settlement allowed under the law to the families of Spencer’s victims because of the Board of Pardons and Paroles’ failure.

However, Board of Pardons and Paroles Chair Lyn Head in a Senate committee on Tuesday testified, “We are not broken.”

She even defended the board’s release of Spencer, claiming it was unavoidable.

Prior to his release and subsequent alleged murder spree, Spencer had lived a life of crime stretching across three decades, beginning in 1984 at the age of 19. He was convicted and imprisoned for numerous serious property and violent crimes, as well as for numerous disciplinary infractions in prison and for several successful escapes from prison.

On two separate occasions, Spencer was sentenced to life imprisonment. In one memorable case, he attempted to burglarize an occupied home and, refusing to retreat, had to be shot by the homeowner.

Despite all of this, Spencer was granted parole by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles on November 2, 2017.

Spencer was at that time released to a homeless shelter in Birmingham where he was supposed to remain for six months. However, after only three weeks, he left.

Spencer then traveled to Guntersville, where he had several run-ins with law enforcement and was charged for multiple violations of the law, including: traffic offenses, possession of drug paraphernalia, attempting to elude police, resisting arrest and illegal possession of a firearm.

Nonetheless, his parole was not revoked — which seemingly led to three innocent lives being taken.

Less than six months after being released, in July 2018, Spencer allegedly murdered Martha Reliford through blunt-force trauma to her head. Her body was discovered only after the bodies of Marie Martin and her seven-year-old grandson, Colton Lee, were found in a nearby home. They also had been brutally murdered.

Spencer was charged in the three deaths with capital murder in August 2018. He is currently awaiting trial in the Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery.

‘A red meat issue’

While Spencer’s case is certainly heinous, the attorney general’s office and Ward on Thursday emphasized Spencer’s case is not an outlier.

In a tweet thread, Marshall outlined twelve awful cases of violent offenders released early by the board who seriously re-offended after leaving prison.

Ward stressed similarly deplorable examples on the Senate floor, noting one inmate sentenced to 30 years for murder who was granted parole after only five years, which was a violation of the board’s own internal rules.

While victims’ families would certainly disagree, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) on the floor claimed HB 380 was simply “a red meat issue” for Republicans, calling it “a bad bill.”

HB 380 would also require that at least one of the three members of the board be a current or former law enforcement officer with a minimum of 10 years’ experience “in or with a law enforcement agency which has among its primary duties and responsibilities the investigation of violent crimes or the apprehension, arrest, or supervision of the perpetrators thereof.”

Additionally, HB 380 would establish a director of Pardons and Paroles that would serve as its chief executive officer. This position would be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor. The bill makes further structural and operational changes to the board to increase accountability and efficiency.

Language in the bill reaffirms that “the board’s paramount duty is to protect public safety” when making decisions, a key point Rowe on Tuesday stressed. She cautioned that the board’s primary role is not to reduce the prison population, despite some misguided perception to the contrary.

Ward in committee on Tuesday cleared up “misinformation” surrounding the bill, saying the legislation would safeguard against the premature release of only the worst type of convicted offenders and not inhibit the release and rehabilitation of those imprisoned for lesser, non-violent offenses.

He also criticized the current board executive director for using his state email account to encourage parole officers to travel to the State House in state vehicles to lobby against the legislation. Ward called this an improper use of state resources, a point Governor Kay Ivey made earlier in the day when speaking to members of the media.

The Senate vote on HB 380 was 25-5.

Immediately after passage, the chief counsel for the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, Katherine Robertson, told Yellowhammer News, “The Attorney General is extremely pleased that the Pardons and Paroles reform bill is headed to the Governor’s desk. It’s a solemn and somber occasion though, when we reflect on everything that set this legislation in motion. We can’t thank Senator Ward or Representative Rowe enough for their leadership and courage to see this across the finish line.”

Update 4:30 p.m.:

Following the Senate’s passage of HB 380, Governor Kay Ivey released a statement confirming her intent to sign the bill, which was expected.

“Too many lives were lost because of wrongful, early paroles in our state,” Ivey outlined. “Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and I have been relentless in our efforts to ensure the Board of Pardons and Paroles is managed prudently and effectively.”

The governor explained, “This bill ensures strong accountability and oversight of a large state agency with more than 600 employees. The justice system should not fail the people of our state again, like it did in the Jimmy O’Neal Spencer case last year.”

“I commend Rep. Rowe, Sen. Ward and the Alabama Legislature on the successful passage of this bill. Ultimately, this is a major win for victims’ rights, the families of victims and every citizen across the state. We will continue to be steadfast in our efforts to improve the pardons and paroles system, while restoring confidence in public safety,” Ivey concluded. “I look forward to receiving and signing this important piece of legislation.”

Rowe told Yellowhammer News that she anticipates a signing ceremony will be held for this bill.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Birmingham students awarded scholarships to fuel their studies in technical fields

The Birmingham chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) recently awarded five students sholarships to further their studies.

The mission of the organization is to provide energy professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and students a pathway to learn more about the energy industry through education, mentoring, community service and business networking.

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Phillip Coffey, Marketing specialist for Alabama Power, helped organize the annual scholarship luncheon. He says the organization gives greater exposure and representation of the energy industry to students and professionals.

The chapter awarded $10,000 in scholarship funds – Iva B. Williams Endowment Scholarships – to five students:

  • Grant Sims.
  • Alexander Washington.
  • Adetola Koiki.
  • Micah Pruitt.
  • Amira Gilford.

The Birmingham chapter of AABE is made up of employees from Alabama Power, Southern PowerSouthern Nuclear Company and Southern Company Services.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 hours ago

Tuberville’s warning on immigration: ‘We have more Middle Easterners coming across that border at times than we do people from Latin America’

As was the case with several of the past elections, immigration will be a significant issue in the 2020 campaign cycle, especially with President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

The 2020 U.S. Senate GOP primary in Alabama will not be an exception, especially as many Republican base voters are growing restless with congressional Democrats stalling Trump’s effort to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the 2020 U.S. Senate race, decried the lax border security and added that in some cases Middle Easterners were exceeding the number of those from Latin America coming across the border.

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“The problem that we’re having, and people don’t understand this, is we do need workers,” he said. “We need people over here to work. I’m big on immigration, but we got to get them in there the right way. And we’ve got to know who is here. We have more Middle Easterners coming across that border at times than we do people from Latin America. We do not have a clue who is coming across, and a lot of these people aren’t coming over here to help this country out. They’re coming over here to tear this country down. They are not for the Constitution. They are not for our laws. They are not for the people in this country. They want to tear it down, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

“That’s the reason I’m running because I want the people in this country to have safe neighborhoods, safe streets,” Tuberville continued. “It sounds like a politician, but all you got to do is open up your eyes and look. That’s one of my mottos in this campaign: Open your eyes and look at what’s going on, and let’s get these people out of Washington that won’t do anything and put people up there that will make a decision and don’t care if they go back and get reelected.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

11 hours ago

Roby: Honoring our symbol of freedom

On June 14th, 1777, our country’s flag was officially adopted by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress. Many years later, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established June 14th as Flag Day, and on August 3, 1949, this day of observance was officially established by an Act of Congress.

Now, every year on June 14th, our country has a special opportunity to celebrate our flag and reflect upon what it symbolizes. The American flag displays 13 horizontal stripes alternating red and white with a blue rectangle, specifically referred to as the “union,” that bears 50 small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine horizontal rows. As you may know, the 50 stars on the American flag represent our 50 states. The 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain and became the first states in the United States.

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While the design of the American flag has been officially modified 26 times since its initial adoption in 1777, the symbolic meaning has remained the same. Whether flown on front lawns across Alabama, in front of schools, universities and businesses of all sizes, or proudly displayed at military installations across this great country, for centuries the American flag has been an inspiring emblem of pride, hope, and freedom for countless people throughout the world.

Whenever I see our flag, I am especially reminded of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have fought to defend it and all it represents. This year, Flag Day comes during an especially important time, as I recently was proud to announce my 2019 appointees to our United States service academies.

Each year, it is my distinct privilege and honor as a member of Congress to nominate students from the Second District to be considered for appointment to the United States Air Force, Naval, Military and Merchant Marine Academies.

This year, I am very pleased to announce that I nominated the following students who received official appointments to the service academies:

  • Daniel Brayden Banner is the son of Dan and Amanda Banner. He is a graduate of Providence Christian School in Dothan, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.Theodore Maxwell Dowd is the son of John and Donna Dowd. He is a graduate of Northview High School in Dothan, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
  • Amore Jacarra Hardy is the daughter of Regina Hardy. She is a graduate of Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery, and she received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Timothy Jurard McClendon is the son of Emma Lee McClendon. He is a graduate of Carroll High School in Ozark, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Johnny M. Montgomery, III, is the son of Johnny Montgomery. He is a graduate of Stanhope Elmore High School in Millbrook, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Jackson Scott Parker is the son of Scott and Hannah Parker. He is a graduate of Abbeville High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
  • Isaac Taylor Sherman is the son of Jeremy and Morgan Sherman. He is a graduate of Prattville High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Seth Cameron White is the son of Steve and Terri White. He is a graduate of Wicksburg High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Naval Academy.

In the spirit of Flag Day, I believe these students from our communities are to be commended not only for their academic excellence, but more importantly, for their eagerness to serve our great country. I am incredibly proud to join their families, friends, teachers and hometowns in offering my sincerest congratulations and thanks. Our flag will continue to shine as a symbol of freedom because of young leaders like these men and women.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

13 hours ago

SEC Baseball Tournament at Hoover Met sees record crowds

Record crowds of more than 160,000 people attended the 2019 SEC Baseball Tournament.

The tournament, held annually at the Hoover Met Complex, had an estimated $15 million economic impact on the area.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference three years ago looked for a host site that would enhance the tournament experience for fans. “After reviewing numerous proposals and visiting a number of potential sites, it turned out that Hoover, our longtime home, could provide everything necessary to make it the right venue for SEC Baseball,” Sankey said.

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He said the city of Hoover stepped things up with the Finley Center to house the SEC Fan Fest, the construction of on-site practice fields and, this year, the addition of a new video board.

“We feel those changes in particular have been game-changers in providing the SEC with a ‘baseball campus’ that is unique to college post-season tournaments,” Sankey said.

From May 21-26, 12 teams competed in the double elimination tournament, which was won by Vanderbilt.

Throughout the week, 162,699 people attended the various baseball games and 32,000 of those attendees came through the SEC Fan Fest. The area included access to inflatables, arcade games, a zip line, climbing, miniature golf course, live entertainment, food and beverage options and more. Fans were able to watch the game from a giant flat-screen TV and couches in the large, air-conditioned facility.

“The 2019 SEC Baseball Tournament was a tremendous success at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex,” said Hoover Mayor Frank V. Brocato. “The city of Hoover was able to welcome a record-setting number of baseball fans throughout the week and attendees had many options for activities around the baseball tournament once they arrived at the complex. … It is certainly our privilege to have hosted this tournament for the past 22 years. We look forward to seeing everyone back in 2020.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

State Sen. Cam Ward: ‘I don’t think you bring back a lottery’ in proposed prison special session

The Alabama legislature was not able to come to an agreement on a lottery this past general session, meaning the body will likely address it in the future.

Could that come as soon as later this year, when Gov. Kay Ivey will reportedly call a special session to address Alabama’s prison system? Given the state’s prisons are under the threat of a federal government takeover, some have suggested that a lottery could be used as a funding mechanism to fix the state’s ailing prisons.

During an appearance on WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), who has been out in front of the prison issue, downplayed the chances of lawmakers addressing the lottery as part of any prison solution.

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“I just don’t see what has changed since the regular session until now that would make a lottery even feasible to bring up in a special session,” Ward said. “I mean, you look at our state. We’re one of four states that have two budgets. And the bulk of our money goes to the education budget, which has a $400 million growth fund this time, and that’s good. But at the same time, we had a lottery that we passed out of the Senate that money went to the general fund, which is constantly struggling with issues like prisons, Medicaid, and mental health. And it failed in the House because most people want to see it all go to education. I just can’t imagine why a lottery bill would come back during a special session because I’m not sure what has changed since it failed in the House this last time. I mean, unless something has changed that I’m not aware of, I don’t think you bring back a lottery in this special session.”

Ward said he did not see the need for increased revenue to solve the prison problem, noting the significant increase in funding for the Department of Corrections already.

“I think the money is already here,” Ward replied. “I really do. I don’t think you need any kind of increase in revenue. I mean, good gracious we gone from a $380 million budget for prisons just a few years ago. Today we’re at $560 million-$580 million. I don’t think you need to do any more revenue. I think it’s how you handle policy within the prison and how you handle the policy with sentencing.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.