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AG Strange Drops All Charges Against Former Sen. Lowell Barron

Lee Hedgepeth

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By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter

After a court battle lasting since April 2013, all criminal charges against former State Senator Lowell Barron have been dropped. Barron, a Fyffe Democrat, was indicted last year along with his campaign staffer for alleged misuse of campaign funds.

AG Strange and former Senator Barron’s attorney, Joe Espy, have, since the arrest, participated in a back and forth legal flurry over the case.

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Espy, on Barron’s behalf, sought to suppress mention of any possible romantic relationship between the Senator and the staffer/co-defendant, Rhonda Jill Johnson, who is also set to be released once the proper paperwork is filed.

Sen. Barron even wanted evidence introduced showing an allegedly deviate relationship between the current AG and one of his female staffers, a request the Court frowned upon.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, however, unanimously agreed with Sen. Barron, saying that – as Strange’s office had conceded – the Attorney General’s prosecution was based on circumstantial evidence in campaign finance reports that would appear no different than ones by any politician, even Luther himself.

The State, however, appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, but to no avail. Unanimously, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision, ultimately ruling the same way on every evidentiary issue.

According to the Department of Corrections, Barron and Johnson will likely be released once the agreements are signed and authorized (a formality) by Circuit Judge Randall Cole.

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State Board of Education picks Eric Mackey to lead Department of Education

Sam Mattison

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In a close vote, the Board of Education decided to hire Eric Mackey, the executive director of the Superintendents Association of Alabama, to fill the state superintendent position.

The State Board of Education voted 5-4 on Friday to hire Mackey.

Mackey’s hiring came as a shock to some as Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey was considered a favorite for the position.

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Here’s what you need to know about his selection:

Pouncey’s lawsuit

Board Member Ella Bell brought up a potential concern with the vote as the body considered the motion.

After state Superintendent Tommy Bice announced his resignation, a new search for state superintendent happened in late 2016. Of the finalist, the board selected Michael Sentance.

But the selection process has since become a center of controversy.

Pouncey, who was currently a candidate for the position, was an early front runner in the process, but an anonymous ethics complaint derailed his selection.

The complaint alleged that Pouncey had plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, and the complaint attached emails from Pouncey that the complaint said proved the allegation. The anonymous ethics complaint was expedited to the Ethics Commission by a group of individuals within the state Department of Education.

In a subsequent report authored by Attorney Michael Meyer, Board Member Mary Scott Hunter, General Counsel Juliana Dean, Interim Superintendent Phillip Cleveland, and two other attorneys in the department were accused of conspiring against Pouncey. All the alleged conspirators deny they took part in the plot, but the report was forwarded to the Alabama State Bar Association

Pouncey filed a lawsuit against the five conspirators seeking damages. While a judge dismissed three people from the lawsuit, Board Member Mary Scott Hunter stayed on as a defendant.

Bell said that her involvement with the lawsuit may preclude her from voting on the next superintendent. If Hunter’s vote is not counted, the Board would have been at a stalemate as Pouncey and Mackey would have ended in a tie.

Rebuilding trust with the public and the Legislature

While they never passed their committee, several key bills dealing with restructuring the state Department of Education were making their way through the 2018 Legislative Session.

Among them included bills to terminate the state Board of Education, reorganize the Board with non-voting adviser positions, and one that would eliminate the Department of Education entirely.

Sponsoring Legislators have expressed concern that the current framework is no working, and they urged the Board to be rigorous in their search for a new state superintendent.

Mackey, who has appeared before legislators multiple times to pitch legislation, said his already existing relationship with the body would help with BOE-Legislature relations.

The board has faced a lot of scrutiny from the Legislature after a tumultuous period under former state Superintendent Michael Sentence and any on the board were critical of Sentance’s leadership.

Sentance’s departure from the department was characterized with confrontational board meetings that saw board members greatly divided on whether to let him stay. In August, the board members signaled his departure with a sudden evaluation that was premature for Sentance, who had only served in the position for less than 1 year.

Challenges ahead for new superintendent

Alabama faces numerous challenges as it attempts to reform and improve key institutions within its sphere of influence.

Of particular note, is the Montgomery Public Schools takeover that was the brainchild of former state Superintendent Michael Sentance. The takeover recently announced that it would lay-off more than 200 teachers in a bid to normalize the district’s overinflated budget.

The state Department of Education is facing its own reorganization that recently gained steam under interim state superintendent Ed Richardson.

Currently, the state as a whole is facing a pending budgetary crunch that could leave the state with millions of dollars that could be siphoned from the Education Trust Fund, which is the biggest since the Great Recession.

In a statement after the meeting, Gov. Kay Ivey said she looked forward to working with Mackey.

“During the interview, I was impressed by Dr. Mackey’s embrace of my vision to ensure that our children have a strong start to their educational journey so that they have a strong finish when they enter the workforce,” Ivey said. “That is the kind of forward thinking we need at the helm of the State Board of Education.”

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Alabama executes 83-year-old Walter Moody for 1989 murder of federal judge

Chip Brownlee

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Walter Moody, 83, was executed Thursday at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. (via Alabama Department of Corrections)

The State of Alabama executed an 83-year-old man Thursday evening for a 1989 bombing that claimed the life of a federal appeals judge in Alabama.

Alabama put Walter Moody to death by lethal injection at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, making him the oldest death-row inmate put to death in modern American history.

Moody was convicted in 1991 after an exhaustive federal investigation found that Moody delivered a package containing a homemade pipebomb to Federal Judge Robert Smith Vance’s home in Mountain Brook. That bomb exploded, instantly killing Vance and seriously injuring his wife.

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“For our system of government to work properly, the judiciary must be able to operate without undue outside influence. By targeting and murdering a respected jurist, Mr. Moody not only committed capital murder, he also sought to interrupt the flow of justice,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Thursday in a statement, after she allowed Moody’s execution to continue despite some calls for clemency in his case because of his advanced age.

The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily delayed his execution with a stay Thursday night to consider last-minute appeals in which Moody’s attorneys argued that the lethal injection would be difficult because of his age and his “spider veins.”

They also said that Vance — who had been chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party before being nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the federal bench — had been personally opposed to the death penalty.

They eventually allowed the execution to continue, and so did Ivey.

“After considering the facts of his horrendous and intentional crime, I have allowed Mr. Moody’s sentence to be carried out in accordance with the laws of this state and in the interest of ensuring justice for the victim and his family,” the governor said.

A complicated federal trial that involved the recusal of all circuit and district judges in the United States 11th Circuit, where Vance was on the bench, led to Moody being convicted on all counts. He was also found to be responsible for the murder of a black civil rights attorney, Robert E. Robinson, based in Savannah, Georgia, who was killed in a separate explosion.

Years earlier, in 1972, Moody had been convicted of possessing a pipebomb that exploded and seriously injured his wife in their kitchen. The earlier case was a major factor in Moody’s 1991 conviction. Investigators said Moody was angry with the federal judiciary after they refused to vacate his sentence.

Vance was not on the panel that made the decision, but Moody seemed to target him anyway. He was also found to have sent four bombs in total:  one to Vance, one to Robinson, and two more that were found and defused before exploding at the 11th Circuit’s headquarters in Atlanta and at the Jacksonville, Georgia, office of the NAACP.

Investigators believed that Moody sent the additional bombs to the NAACP and Robinson because he hoped to throw investigators off his trail by adding a racial element to the crime.

He was later convicted on state charges for Vance’s murder and was sentenced to death by electrocution on Feb. 10, 1997.

The Department of Corrections said Thursday in a statement that Moody’s execution began at 8:17 p.m., and he was pronounced dead at 8:42 p.m. He gave no final statement.

“Walter Leroy Moody was convicted of Judge Vance’s murder in both federal and state courts,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Even though he was also convicted of a similar pipe bomb death of a Georgia attorney, Moody has spent the better part of three decades trying to avoid justice. Tonight, Mr. Moody’s appeals finally came to a rightful end. Justice has been served.”

Vance’s son, Bob Vance, is now a Jefferson County circuit judge in the running for the State Supreme Court. Judge Bob Vance did not attend the execution.

Moody’s execution drew national attention because of his age. Before Moody’s execution, the oldest death-row inmate to face the death penalty since it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in the late 1970s was John Nixon, who was 77 when he was executed in 2005.

As states are carrying out fewer executions because of court litigation and the scarcity of some lethal injection drugs, the age of many death row inmates is rising. Georgia executed a 67-year-old earlier this year, and Alabama executed 75-year-old Thomas Arthur last year who had escaped the death penalty seven times before.

Death Row inmate Thomas Arthur executed after seven previous attempts

The average age on Alabama’s death row is low, sitting now at 32 years old, though there are three inmates on Alabama’s death row aged 68 or older, according to ADOC records, and many more who are nearing that age.

The oldest now is Charlie Washington, 70, who was sentenced in 2004 to death row for murder in the course of a robbery or burglary.

More than 180 people, the vast majority of which are men, remain on death row.

Another case involving an elderly death-row inmate will make its way to the Supreme Court after the justices this year agreed to hear the case of Vernon Madison, 67, who was convicted of killing a Mobile, Alabama, police officer in 1985.

His attorneys say he has no memory of the crime after suffering multiple strokes; therefore, capital punishment can’t serve its purpose in his case.

 

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State Board of Education to select new superintendent today

Sam Mattison

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The State Board of Education is scheduled to hire a new state superintendent today after a 7-month long search.

After interviewing the candidates for the position today, the members will select who will take the position. Finalist for the position include the following candidates:

  • Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey
  • Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy
  • Superintendent Association of Alabama Executive Director Eric Mackey
  • Former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott

The search for the new head of the department came after Michael Sentance, the former superintendent, resigned amid tensions with the board.

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Sentance’s resignation came after the board was slated to fire him after a series of tumultuous board meetings.

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AG Strange Drops All Charges Against Former Sen. Lowell Barron

by Lee Hedgepeth Read Time: 1 min
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