The State of Alabama today executed Leroy White over strong opposition from the family of the crime victim and in spite of the jury’s verdict sentencing him to life imprisonment without parole. The trial prosecutor also joined the call for clemency. Mr. White’s case was never reviewed by a federal appellate court because his lawyers abandoned him without filing his appeal.
Leroy White was executed for the 1988 shooting death of his wife, Ruby. Ruby’s family members, who were most directly affected by the crime, strongly opposed his execution. Her three children unanimously joined her sister (who was wounded during the crime), other family, and even the prosecutor in asking Alabama Governor Bob Riley to grant clemency and commute Mr. White’s death sentence to life imprisonment without parole. The governor denied clemency today without explanation.
Before trial, the State offered Mr. White a plea to life imprisonment without parole, but settlement failed because Mr. White’s trial lawyer was wrong about the law and inaccurately told Mr. White that he could not be convicted of capital murder.
After Mr. White was convicted of capital murder, the jury determined that he should be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The victim’s family at sentencing also expressed its desire for Mr. White to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The trial court nonetheless overrode the jury’s verdict and sentenced Mr. White to death.
Alabama is the only state in the country that allows elected judges to override jury life verdicts without any meaningful restrictions.
After his direct appeal process was complete, Mr. White was represented by volunteer attorneys who filed his habeas corpus petition in federal district court. While the petition was pending, Mr. White’s attorneys abandoned him without notice. As a result, he was completely unaware that the court denied his petition in 2009 and did not know that his lawyers had missed the deadline to appeal until July 13, 2010, when he received a copy of the State’s motion to set his execution date.
Mr. White immediately contacted the Alabama Supreme Court and called EJI for help. EJI intervened and filed motions in federal and state courts asking the courts to stay his execution and allow him to pursue his appeals. The courts denied the motions, and Mr. White was executed even though no federal appellate court ever reviewed his case.
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Charles R. Wilson dissented, arguing that Mr. White had provided evidence sufficient to prove he had been abandoned by counsel. Denying Mr. White any opportunity for appellate review is especially troubling because the United States Supreme Court recently decided to review a case that could render Mr. White’s death sentence unconstitutional.
It is unprecedented for the State of Alabama to execute a person where the victim’s family unanimously and strongly supported clemency, where both the prosecutor and the jury believed that life without parole was the appropriate sentence, and where the condemned person was abandoned by his volunteer lawyers and never received any review of the constitutional claims in his case by any federal appellate court.
Adding to the difficulty of last night’s execution was the prison’s decision to terminate communication between Mr. White and his lawyers at 4:30 p.m. As a result, Mr. White could not talk to his lawyers about the status of his appeals in the ninety minutes leading up to his 6:00 p.m. scheduled execution. When the execution was delayed by the U.S. Supreme Court minutes before it was to take place, he could not speak with counsel about why, or what to expect, during the hours he sat next to the execution chamber after his execution had been scheduled to occur. Mr. White was executed at 9:00 p.m.