EJI lawyers today filed a petition asking the Alabama Supreme Court to stay the execution of Alabama death row inmate Jimmy Callahan, who is scheduled to be executed on January 15, 2009.
The petition argues that the state’s highest court should determine whether Mr. Callahan’s conviction is invalid because it depends on statements that may have been coerced during an interrogation in which his trial judge participated.
While law enforcement officials were questioning Mr. Callahan at the Calhoun County Jail, the trial judge entered the interrogation room and questioned Mr. Callahan about his constitutional rights.
In 2004, a federal court reversed Mr. Callahan’s conviction, finding that the judge should not have presided over the trial because of his involvement in the interrogation. The federal court held that “the appearance of partiality [could] not be avoided by his role as the trial judge after he has assumed the role of the prosecutor in the pre-indictment stage of the proceedings.” That decision was reversed on appeal due in part to limitations on federal review of state court judgments.
The Alabama Supreme Court never has expressly addressed the issue. Mr. Callahan is asking the court to look at his claim and resolve whether his conviction and sentence are proper and legal before allowing him to be executed.
Last year, Jimmy Callahan came within one hour of execution. The Alabama Supreme Court set his execution date in the midst of a nationwide moratorium on executions, requiring a federal court to stay the execution. After the stay had been in place for six weeks, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals surprisingly reinstated the execution date with just 40 hours notice.
After Mr. Callahan’s family had said their final good-byes, the United States Supreme Court halted his execution one hour before he was scheduled to be killed.
The Alabama Supreme Court last month set the highest number of executions in sixty years. Jimmy Callahan’s January 15 execution date is the first of five dates scheduled for the first five months of this year.