Alabama Seeking to Resume Executions Following Oral Argument in Baze v. Rees


The Alabama Attorney General is asking the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a January 31, 2008, execution date for Jimmy Callahan just three weeks after the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Baze v. Rees.

After the United States Supreme Court made clear last year that executions would be stayed until resolution of Baze v. Rees, the Alabama Supreme Court nonetheless continued to schedule executions. Thomas Arthur was scheduled to be executed on December 6, 2007, and Jimmy Callahan was scheduled for January 31, 2008. Mr. Arthur’s execution was stayed by the United States Supreme Court on December 5, 2007. Mr. Callahan’s execution was stayed by the U.S. District Court on December 14, 2007.

Mr. Callahan’s challenge to lethal injection was filed in October 2006. The federal district court ruled that a stay was necessary so that Alabama’s first and only trial on the merits of lethal injection could take place. The judge further found that “there was a substantial likelihood” that Mr. Callahan’s challenge would be successful.

Although the stay has been in place for six weeks, the Eleventh Circuit indicated last week that it would issue a decision today, facilitating a possible execution on Thursday. The State of Alabama has notified the U.S. Supreme Court that it will ask that court to vacate the stay if the Eleventh Circuit refuses to do so.

Summary of Issues at Mr. Callahan’s Trial

Jimmy Callahan was arrested in February 1982 and interrogated by law enforcement officers for more than two days. On the second day, Circuit Court Judge Samuel Monk entered the interrogation room and began questioning Mr. Callahan about his constitutional rights. The same judge presided over Mr. Callahan’s trial where incriminating statements obtained during the interrogation comprised the prosecution’s most critical evidence.

At the sentencing phase that followed Mr. Callahan’s capital murder conviction, his defense lawyer presented no evidence to persuade the jury and judge to sentence Mr. Callahan to life without parole instead of death. The entire sentencing proceeding took less than one hour. Defense counsel actually asked the jurors to have mercy on him rather than on his client: “I hope you don’t think I’m foolish in speaking on behalf of him that he not be sentenced to the electric chair. It may be that you disagree about that. That’s all right. . . .” The jury recommended a death sentence after only 33 minutes of deliberation. When the trial judge later conducted a sentencing hearing and asked counsel if he had anything to present that would support a sentence of life without parole, Mr. Callahan’s lawyer responded: “Judge, I have no comments.”

The federal district courtfound on appeal that Mr. Callahan’s constitutional rights were violated and he deserved a new trial because of the trial judge’s participation in the interrogation and his lawyer’s ineffectiveness, but the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal reversed and denied relief.