Filed 12:35 p.m.
‘I’m Just Happy to Be Alive’
An Alabama man, wrongfully convicted, overcomes a judicial override to gain his freedom.
Montez Spradley was quietly released from the Staton Correctional prison in Alabama late Friday after serving nine-and-one-half years in custody, and over three years on death row, for a murder he did not commit. He was released because a state appeals court in 2011 ruled that his trial was unconstitutionally tainted by the admission of inadmissible evidence and because a subsequent hearing in 2013 revealed that a key witness against him had been paid for her dubious testimony. Here is the link to the 2011 ruling by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, a court renown for affirming the convictions and death sentences of capital litigants.
There was never any direct physical evidence linking Spradley to the 2004 crime and the circumstantial case against him was woeful enough to prompt prosecutors to engage in what the Alabama appeals court subsequently called a miscarriage of justice. This helps explain why his trial jury (consisting of eight white jurors and four black jurors) voted 10-2 to grant him a life sentence — a degree of leniency not typically afforded a black man charged with murdering a white woman in Alabama. That verdict was overridden, however, by the trial judge in the case, Judge Gloria Bahakel. She imposed a death sentence against Spradley, even after she approved the payment to that crucial witness (who has since recanted) and even though she knew that Spradley’s trial attorneys were unaware before and during trial that the informant had been compensated.