The Alabama Supreme Court has set an execution date of January 13, 2011, for death row prisoner Leroy White, even though his case still is pending in federal court.
Leroy White was sentenced to death by a Madison County, Alabama, judge after his jury determined that he should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Alabama is the only state in the country that allows elected judges to override jury life verdicts without any meaningful restrictions.
In 2002, Mr. White filed a petition for federal habeas corpus relief in the United States District Court for the Northern District. While his petition was pending, one of his lawyers was suspended from the practice of law, and his other attorneys abandoned Mr. White without notifying him or the court.
As a result, Mr. White was completely unaware that the court denied his petition in 2009 and did not know that his lawyers had missed the deadline to appeal that ruling. Until July 13, 2010, when he received a copy of the State’s motion to set his execution date, Mr. White believed that his case was still pending and that he was still represented by his attorneys.
EJI intervened and asked the federal court to allow Mr. White to appeal. The federal court asked the State of Alabama to file a response to EJI’s motion. The court has not yet issued a decision.
Even though Mr. White’s case is still pending in federal court, the Alabama Supreme Court on December 2, 2010, issued an order setting Mr. White’s execution for January 13, 2011. EJI has filed an emergency motion asking the court to vacate that order.
According to recent law from the United States Supreme Court, a condemned prisoner may be excused from failing to meet a deadline if extraordinary circumstances prevented him from filing on time through no fault of his own, like in this case, where Mr. White missed his appeal deadline because his attorneys unethically abandoned him without notifying him or the court.