The Wire

  • Three takeaways from Alabama’s Runoff Election


    With Alabama’s primary election runoffs now in the books, here are three takeaways from the results.

    North Alabama has spoken.
    When this election cycle began, it became evident that north Alabama saw a window of opportunity to increase its influence.  The results from the Republican primary runoff have shown the electorate in that area of the state was eager to flex its muscle.

    Will Ainsworth pulled out an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Lt. Governor’s race. Steve Marshall enjoyed a resounding win in his bid to retain the Attorney General’s office.

  • On Roby’s win: One false media narrative dies, a new one is born


    Like Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts comic strip fame repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he lines up to kick it, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) once again has shown you can’t beat her in a Republican primary.

    Similar to when she defeated “Gather Your Armies” Rick Barber in the 2010 GOP primary and “Born Free American Woman” Becky Gerritson in the 2016 GOP primary, Roby defeated former Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright for a second time on Tuesday night, this time by a whopping 36 points.

    Heading into yesterday, many national media reporters were sent into Alabama’s second congressional district looking at the possibility that Roby might have to answer to a revolt for not sticking with then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on the infamous Billy Bush weekend during the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Mo Brooks Wins FreedomWorks’ Prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award

    Excerpt from a Rep. Mo Brooks news release:

    Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) was one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks, a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide. Only members of Congress who score better than 90% on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award. Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top 4% of all Congressmen in 2017.

    Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017. If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great. I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”

3 weeks ago

Justice Kennedy’s retirement could mean death for Alabama death row prisoner


Experts this week have debated the impact of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. For one Alabama death row inmate, however, it literally could mean the difference between life and death.

Kennedy, who announced that he will step down at the end of July, was not an automatic vote for death row inmates over the years. But his vote nearly always was necessary for rulings that narrowed the scope or application of capital punishment.

That could be bad news for Vernon Madison, whose case has been set for the high court term that begins in October. By then, a new justice selected by President Donald Trump is likely to be in Kennedy’s seat, and experts believe the odds are high that the replacement will be a more reliable capital punishment defender.

“Justice Kennedy’s retirement was not good news for death row prisoners in general,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.


Madison is one of Alabama’s longest-serving death row inmates. A Mobile County jury convicted him of murder in the shooting death of Officer Julius Schulte, who was responding to a domestic disturbance call. Madison was on parole at the time.

His case has taken a long and winding road through the courts over the decades. State appellate courts twice overturned convictions. In 1994 — in Madison’s third trial — a jury again found him guilty, and a judge sentenced him to death.

Madison challenged the conviction in federal court, arguing that state prosecutors improperly had excluded blacks from the jury. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the execution on hold and instructed U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose in Mobile to examine the allegation. The judge ruled in 2013 that the prosecutors had legitimate, non-race reasons for striking the potential jurors.

The Supreme Court last year rejected Madison’s appeal, putting him closer to execution. But now his lawyers have raised a novel challenge. They argue that Madison suffers from dementia and cannot remember the crime. Executing him now, the lawyers maintain, would amount to a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Dunham, of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Madison likely would fail if he brought the case as a habeas action — a direct appeal to the federal courts — like the one the court rejected last year.

But the latest challenge comes as an appeal from a state court decision, which carries a different standard for the Supreme Court to consider.

“Madison’s case has unique facts,” Dunham said. “So I don’t think we’ll be able to tell what the impact (of Kennedy’s retirement) is going to be.”

Dunham said Kennedy’s impact on the death penalty has been large, however.

“Historically, the Eighth Amendment meant what Justice Kennedy thought it meant,” he said. “He was the swing vote in so many cases.”

Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, or played a significant role, in several landmark death penalty cases that constrained its use. Among them:

Atkins v. Virginia. Kennedy joined the 6-3 majority in 2002 decision banning the death penalty for mentally retarded defendants.

Roper v. Simmons. Kennedy, joined by the court’s four liberals, wrote the majority opinion in a 2005 case holding that it was unconstitutional to execute people who committed capital offenses before they were 18 years old. It overturned a 16-year-old precedent and struck down laws in 25 states.

Kennedy v. Louisiana. Kennedy led a 5-4 majority in 2008 that that ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for crimes other than murder. Patrick O’Neal Kennedy — no relation to the justice — had been sentenced to death for rape of a child.

Hall v. Florida. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in a 5-4 case in 2014 in which he again teamed up with the court’s four liberals. The majority declared that the IQ score Florida used to determine whether defendants were too mentally retarded to be executed was too rigid. The court required states to take a less mechanical approach to determining eligibility for capital punishment.

“Florida’s law contravenes our nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world,” he wrote.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 months ago

Alabama aging death row: Is executing old or infirm inmates cruel?


Vernon Madison has spent decades on Alabama’s death row. Now 67, Madison has suffered from strokes and dementia and his lawyers say he no longer recalls the crime that put him there: the 1985 killing of a police officer.

His speech is slurred, he suffers from confusion, and once thought he was near release and talked of moving to Florida, according to his lawyers. This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to review the claims by Madison’s defense team that executing someone in his condition would violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel,” Madison’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, said in January, when the justices stayed Madison’s execution the night he was to receive a lethal injection.


The U.S. death row population is aging, and that leaves courts increasingly likely to grapple with questions of when it becomes unconstitutionally cruel to put someone to death who is mentally frail — or whose medical conditions could complicate the execution procedure.

“That is going to be an increasing issue in carrying out the American death penalty,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. “We are reaching a stage, as death row inmates age, we’ll see this more frequently.”

About 2,800 people are on death row in prisons nationwide, and about 1,200 of them over age 50, the non-profit group said. An Associated Press review of the group’s data shows the median age of an executed inmate in the U.S. rose from 34 to 46 between 1983 and 2017 — a fact observers attribute to appeals taking longer — sometimes decades.

One of the oldest, 83-year-old Walter Leroy Moody, is scheduled to be executed Thursday in Alabama for the 1989 package bomb killing of a federal judge. If the sentence is carried out, Moody would be the oldest person and the first octogenarian put to death since U.S. executions resumed in the 1970s, Dunham said.

“Many of these defendants have done terrible things. People are torn between wanting to punish severely and the belief it is beneath us as a nation to kill a frail person who is already dying. It’s a challenge to our morality and our sense of humanity,” Dunham said.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, supports steps to reduce the time between an inmate’s sentencing and execution.

“There is no constitutional issue from age alone, though dementia does, of course, become more common with age. The underlying question about what kind and degree of mental illness will prevent an execution is not new. It is ancient.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing in Madison’s case, noted the growing number of aging prisoners on death row and said, “Given this trend, we may face ever more instances of state efforts to execute prisoners suffering the diseases and infirmities of old age.”

Age by itself isn’t the issue, but rather the illnesses more common with old age.

Take Alva Campbell, 69. He died last month in an Ohio prison of natural causes after his 2017 lethal injection procedure was halted when a usable vein couldn’t be found. Alabama similarly aborted last month’s execution of Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, who has battled lymphoma. His lawyer said Hamm had at least 11 puncture wounds from attempts to find a vein.

“It was precisely Doyle’s old age and illness that raised all the problems. The state of Alabama was not prepared,” Hamm’s attorney, Bernard Harcourt, wrote in an email.

Yet 75-year-old Tommy Arthur, who had argued that his cardiovascular disease would complicate execution, was put to death without obvious incident last year in Alabama.

Madison was convicted of killing Mobile police officer Julius Schulte.

Schulte responded to a missing child report on April 18, 1985. Arriving at a home, he found the child had returned but Madison and his girlfriend were embroiled in a domestic dispute. According to court records, Schulte interacted briefly with Madison, telling him to “just to go on and let things cool down.” According to prosecutors, Madison left but then crept up behind Schulte as he sat in his police car, shooting him twice in the head.

The Supreme Court has ruled inmates must have a rational understanding of why they’re being executed, faculties which Madison’s lawyers say he doesn’t possess.

His attorneys argue strokes have left Madison frequently disoriented with no independent memory of his crime. They also say he is legally blind, cannot walk independently and has urinary incontinence from his brain damage.

The state’s lawyers counter that Madison was found competent at a 2016 hearing, hasn’t presented new evidence and is aware he received the death sentence — even if he doesn’t remember killing Schulte.

“What happened to my dad was cruel and unusual punishment,” said Schulte’s son, Michael. “He was shot twice in the head while he was trying to help somebody.”

Schulte, 59, has suffered health problems of his own, including a stroke and heart attack. Yet he said Madison’s protracted legal fight has been hard on his family and doesn’t “do my dad justice.”

Said Schulte: “Somebody needs to make a decision. Either we are going to have the death penalty or we’re not.”

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)