Bobby Waldrop was sentenced to death in Randolph County, Alabama, even though his jury decided that he should be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, by a trial judge who said he was overriding the jury and imposing death because all of the other defendants he had sentenced to death were Black.
Bobby Waldrop, who is white, was convicted of capital murder in 1999. The jury which convicted him decided that he should be sentenced to life in prison without any possibility of parole. Then-Circuit Judge Dale Segrest held a separate sentencing hearing, where he announced his decision to override the jury’s life verdict. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Segrest explained on the record why he had decided to sentence Bobby to death: “If I had not imposed the death sentence [in this case], I would have sentenced three Black people to death and no white people.”
The Constitution forbids a trial judge from considering a defendant’s race in deciding the appropriate punishment. In a petition for federal habeas corpus relief recently filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, attorneys from EJI argued that, in sentencing Bobby Waldrop to death, the trial judge demonstrated that his sentencing decisions in death penalty cases were infected by overt racial bias.
EJI also is challenging the judge’s override of the jury’s life verdict. Six years ago, the United States Supreme Court decided in Ring v. Arizona that juries, not judges, must make the factual findings necessary to sentence a defendant to death. Bobby Waldrop’s case will be the first time a federal court will have the opportunity to decide whether Alabama’s override provision is unconstitutional in light of Ring.
Alabama is the only state in the country that allows standardless judicial override. Of about 200 prisoners currently on Alabama’s death row, 40 were sentenced to life without parole by juries. Standardless override is particularly problematic in Alabama because Alabama judges are selected in hotly contested partisan elections in which judges campaign on their record of imposing death sentences.
Mr. Waldrop has asked the federal court for relief from his unconstitutional death sentence. His petition is pending.