Saturday, 28 July 2007

Rethink death penalty, ex-DA says

Rethink death penalty, ex-DA says

A moratorium would allow study
Saturday, July 28, 2007
News staff writer

The prosecutor who put Darrell Grayson on Death Row 27 years ago now says he would like Alabama to rethink capital punishment.

The day after Grayson's execution by lethal injection Thursday for the 1980 rape-murder of Annie Laurie Orr of Montevallo, Billy Hill said he had no doubt of Grayson's guilt but still would like to see changes in Alabama's laws.

"I would welcome a moratorium on the death penalty and the appointment of a study group," Hill said. "I don't question that the state has the right to do it. I do question whether it is a wise and humane use of our resources."

Hill, 56, was the district attorney for Shelby, Coosa and Clay counties from 1979 until 1986. Today he is Shelby County public defender. The move from prosecution to defense has helped him change his perspective, Hill said.

As it stands now, Hill said, murder can become capital murder in Alabama for a wider array of reasons than in any other state. Some examples are when murder is combined with a robbery, rape or other violent felony; or when there is more than one victim; or when the victim is younger than 12.

"Do you realize that if two people are arguing on a street corner and one of them pulls a gun and kills the other one, that is simple murder?" Hill said. "But, take the same scenario and put one of them in a car, and it becomes a capital case."

Victims' families suffer, too, with executions often set and canceled several times during repeated appeals. "It just never goes away for the victim's family," Hill said.

"In some cases there is the question of certainty. Two guys on Alabama's Death Row have been exonerated. With the limited resources the state has available, so many are sentenced to death who have not had the benefit of top-flight representation," he said.

And finally, "in 30 years of observing violent offenders," he said, "I find three factors present in almost all of them: some kind of childhood abuse, either physical or sexual; some type of chemical dependence, either alcohol or drugs; and neurological damage."

The state needs to provide the costly resources such as testing for those problems if it wants to apply the penalty fairly, he said.

Hill said he is not advocating turning the offenders loose. "A lot of people do not realize that in Alabama life without parole means you are not leaving prison except with your toes turned up," he said.

"And, too, remember that we are the only modern, industrialized nation in the world that still has capital punishment," he said.


© 2007 The Birmingham News

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