The State of Alabama put to death Phillip Hallford today, despite questions about whether prosecutors violated laws requiring them to disclose to the defense evidence that undermined the reliability of testimony from the State’s key witness at trial.
The State’s case against Mr. Hallford for the murder of his daughter’s boyfriend depended on the testimony of his daughter, who had been charged, as a juvenile, with participating in the crime. Under Alabama law, in order for the State to convict Mr. Hallford of a capital crime and obtain a death sentence, it had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder occurred during a robbery. The daughter provided evidence critical to the State’s robbery theory: she was the only witness to testify that Mr. Hallford burned a wallet that belonged to the victim.
Before trial, the daughter and the prosecution agreed that she would testify against her father as part of a plea agreement that allowed her to escape being tried as an adult for intentional murder. Prosecutors, however, did not tell defense counsel about this agreement as they are required to do. The State even elicited testimony at trial suggesting that the daughter did not testify under the promise of any lenient treatment. As a result, the jury never learned that a key witness for the State testified as part of a deal to avoid adult prosecution.
Despite this and other questions about the reliability of the proceedings in Mr. Hallford’s case, the state and federal courts allowed Mr. Hallford’s execution to be carried out.
The problem of prosecutorial misconduct, and courts’ failures to enforce laws against withholding information that the defense is entitled to use at trial, is central to a case currently before the United States Supreme Court. In Connick v. Thompson, the Court will address whether a prosecutor is liable for the failure to disclose evidence that resulted in a wrongful conviction and death sentence.
Mr. Hallford is the fifth person to be executed by the State of Alabama this year. Alabama officials have said that a nationwide shortage of the drug used in lethal injection will not impact Alabama, which unlike other states, has plenty of the drug on hand.
Yesterday, The Birmingham News criticized the State for not finding resources for things like state troopers and schools while making sure that it has the resources to carry out executions, and questioned the use of the death penalty in light of its high cost and the money that could be saved by sentencing defendants to life without parole instead. Alabama continues to sentence people to death and carry out executions at the highest per capita rate in the country despite the high cost of capital punishment compared to life sentences without parole for people convicted of capital murder.