Alabama Supreme Court Grants New Trial to EJI Death Row Client Kenneth Billups


The Alabama Supreme Court on December 30, 2010, ruled that Kenneth Billups was entitled to a new trial because his jury was unlawfully allowed to consider highly prejudicial evidence.

Mr. Billups was convicted of capital murder after his jury improperly was allowed to consider the State’s detailed account of his alleged involvement in a separate crime, photographs of the victims in that case, and testimony from seven witnesses about it.

EJI argued on appeal that several errors undermined the reliability of Mr. Billups’s conviction and death sentence, including that evidence about a separate offense should not have been admitted at all.

Because evidence of a defendant’s potential involvement in another crime may persuade jurors to convict based on the perception that the defendant is a bad person or a criminal rather than on the evidence in the case, the law bars the use of evidence about a separate crime except for very limited purposes. EJI argued that Mr. Billups’s trial judge failed to identify the specific, limited purposes for which the jury could lawfully consider this evidence.

The Alabama Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the trial court committed plain error when it gave the jury a “laundry list” of purposes, including ones that did not apply to Mr. Billups. The court found that the error “obvious[ly]” confused the jury and prejudiced Mr. Billups, and requires a new trial.

On the same day as it released its decision in Billups, the Alabama Supreme Court granted death row inmate Lamar Kilingsworth a new trial.