By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—State Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) is working to move his historic legislation forward to establish an Alabama Innocence Inquiry Commission.
An Innocence Inquiry Commission will hear a deathrow inmate’s case in lieu of a lengthy and costly appeals process, if there “…is physical evidence that can prove actual innocence, not just reasonable doubt, but actual innocence,” said Brewbaker.
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Brewbaker says he has made a request for a public hearing and is waiting for a response.
The legislation gained traction earlier this month after the Alabama Supreme Court denied a petition for Writ of Certiorari in the case against deathrow inmate, William “Billy” Ernest Kuenzel. In a Special Writing, Chief Justice Roy Moore’s dissent makes the argument that Kuenzel’s writ should have been granted for several reasons, including the new evidence that has only come to light. It has been over 20 years since he was convicted for the murder of a convenience store clerk, Linda Jean Offord, in Sylacauga in 1987.
He was sentenced to death by electrocution on November 7, 1988. But over the last two decades, new evidence has come forward showing that the prosecution in this case withheld vital information from the jury; information that points to Kuenzel’s innocence.
In Brewbaker’s opinion, Kuenzel’s case is a prime example of why an Innocence Inquiry Commission is necessary.
“Chief Justice Moore’s opinion was a God-send,” said Brewbaker. “I doubt it would have come out of [Senate] committee if it were not for him.”
Brewbaker said, “Justice Moore made the case that we are in danger of committing or at least a possible grave miscarriage of justice in the case.”
There are those in law enforcement who see this as just another appeals process. However, Brewbaker doesn’t see it the way. “It only applies to a small sliver of people, and it only applies where there is new evidence.”
Brewbaker said the commission, “Would add a lot of integrity to the death penalty process for Alabama” and hopes lawmakers will see the wisdom in “…following the lead of states like Texas, and establish an innocence commission.”
Innocence Inquiry Commissions have been a vital part of English law for generations. The first Innocence Inquiry Commission in the US was established in North Carolina. There the Commission “…is charged with providing an independent and balanced, truth-seeking forum for credible post-conviction claims of innocence.” The Commission is separate from the appeals process.
Brewbaker, a strong death penalty proponent, believes this is about making sure the State gets it right.
Associate Justice Glen Murdock was also in the dissent.