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Gov. Kay Ivey orders a halt to early parole hearings

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) met with the three members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles after the board scheduled early parole hearings for 150 violent offenders including dozens of convicted murderers.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Governor Ivey announced that she has designated Lyn Head as the Chairperson of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. Ms. Head will take over those responsibilities from Clifford Walker, who remains a member of the Board.

Governor Ivey also signed Executive Order 716 which, effective immediately, imposes a temporary moratorium on early parole hearings and requires the submission and implementation of a corrective action plan by the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

“Today, I have taken decisive action to address the alarming concerns surrounding the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles,” Gov. Ivey said in a statement. “First, through Executive Order, I am directing a halt on all early parole hearings, so that the Board’s focus remains entirely on addressing the problems at hand. To shift the direction of Pardons and Paroles, I have also designated new leadership. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles’ decisions are crucial to the safety of our state, and the issues here are not to be taken lightly. I directed the Board to produce a detailed, corrective action plan, which they will report back to the Attorney General and myself. It’s clear that things need to change, and I assure the families of victims and all Alabamians that I am working diligently to solve this problem.”

“I joined @GovernorKayIvey in reviewing recent actions of State Board of Pardons & Paroles and fully support the Gov’s executive order imposing a temporary moratorium on early parole hearings and requiring a corrective action plan for the Board,” AG Marshall said on social media.

The emergency meeting came after the Board had announced that the October sessions would include early parole hearing for 150 violent offenders for good behavior. These hearings were much earlier than what they were supposed to be eligible for.

Freddy McCarthy was horrified when he was notified out that the woman who murdered his daughter was scheduled for early release this month, just two years after her murder conviction. Dominique Atkinson had received a life sentence. In 2013, she and her boyfriend, Marquis Cheatham, shot Ashley McCarthy, age 20, to death. Cheatham was the victim’s husband.

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Freddy McCarthy reached out to Channel 12 for their assistance leading to the news reports that put into motion the chain of events that resulted in today’s action by Gov. Ivey.

Another man was shocked when he was notified that his brother’s killer was slated for an early parole hearing after serving just five years of his life sentence.

After WSFA TV did an investigative report on the planned hearings, the Board removed 47 felons, most of them murderers, from the list, still leaving over 100 violent offenders. Those hearings that were scheduled for today are now suspended after Gov. Ivey’s announcement of a moratorium on Monday.

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Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey has called for the entire board to be removed after over 200 inmates were released in September including one sentenced to two life sentences for murder after just 16 years in prison.

“I am calling for the Governor to remove the Board and remove them swiftly,” Bailey told Channel 12.

Marquelle Sweeting received a 25-year sentence after he robbed and assaulted three people, shooting one. A class A felony is supposed to mean that the felon must serve 85 percent of that sentence or 15 years. Sweeting was released after serving just five years even though he has committed a number of infractions in prison, including assaulting a prison guard.

Alabama has chronically underfunded the Alabama Department of Corrections for decades and does not have sufficient space to house all of the very violent criminals that are convicted in this state. The federal court system has been putting pressure on the state to decrease prison overcrowding and improve prisoner services including mental health.

Gov. Ivey is seeking to build more prisons and improve the chronic understaffing of the system; but thus far her efforts are not keeping up with the growing demand for prison beds.

Alabama has the fourth highest murder rate in the country.

Lyn Head is the former District Attorney for Tuscaloosa County. She was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley. Ivey made her the Chair on Monday. Former Chair Clifford Walker was appointed to the Board in 2009 by Gov. Bentley after serving on a special pardons board for Gov. Bob Riley. He worked in the Department of Agriculture in the 1990s after a career in the securities industry. Dwayne Spurlock is a retired federal probation officer appointed to the Board on May 29 by Gov. Ivey.

(Original reporting by WSFA TV channel 12’s Jennifer Horton contributed to this report.)

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Economy

Alabama weekly unemployment claims dip below 10,000 for first time since March

It is the lowest number of initial claims filed in a week since the number first spiked in the third week of March, when it jumped from 1,824 to 10,982 — though still much higher than before the pandemic began.

Micah Danney

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(APR GRAPHIC)

There were 9,468 unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, down from 11,692 the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

It is the lowest number of initial claims filed in a week since the number first spiked in the third week of March, when it jumped from 1,824 to 10,982 — though still much higher than the normal before the pandemic began. The most weekly claims filed during the pandemic was 106,739 in the week ending April 4. In 2019, an average of 2,500 people per week filed unemployment claims.

65 percent of the claims — or 6,110 claims — from Aug. 2 to Aug. 8 were related to COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. That compares to 76 percent the week before.

New claims dropped sharply in May and declined fairly steadily, then increased over the first half of July as cases resurged in Alabama but began declining again in the second half of July. Average daily COVID-19 cases peaked on July 19 before beginning a new decline.

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News

Mazda, Toyota invest additional $830 million in joint Huntsville plant

The additional investment into the plant, which is to produce new SUV’s for both car companies, is for new manufacturing technologies to the production line and additional training for the 4,000 or so expected workers.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday announced an additional $830 million investment in Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp.’s joint manufacturing venture, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, in Huntsville. 

The additional investment into the plant, which is to produce new SUV’s for both car companies, is for new manufacturing technologies to the production line and additional training for the 4,000 or so expected workers, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

“Toyota’s presence in Alabama continues to build excitement about future opportunities that lie ahead, both for our economy and for the residents of our great state,” Ivey said in a statement. “Mazda and Toyota’s increased commitment to the development of this manufacturing plant reiterates their belief in the future of manufacturing in America and the potential for the state of Alabama to be an economic leader in the wake of unprecedented economic change.

The additional $830 million brings the total investment in the project to $2.311 billion and will allow for production line modifications for both of the new models. Once complete, the facility is slated to be able to produce up to 150,000 of a future Mazda crossover model and up to 150,000 of the Toyota SUVs annually. 

The joint venture has already hired approximately 600 of the planned 4,000 new workers, and the companies expect to begin accepting applications again later this year.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home. Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes,” said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at MTM, in a statement. “As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come.”

Construction on the Huntsville plant is ongoing, with 75 to 100 percent completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical, according to the press release. 

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“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said in a statement. “We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line.”

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” Limestone County Commission Chairman Colin Daly said in a statement. “We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our community and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to co

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the new investment will magnify the economic impact of a project that is poised to transform the North Alabama region.

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“With this enhanced investment, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is adding new technology and capabilities to a manufacturing facility that was already designed to be one of the most efficient factories in the automotive industry,” Canfield said in a statement. “We’re confident that the groundbreaking collaboration between Mazda and Toyota will drive growth not only for the companies but also for North Alabama for generations.”

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National

Jones calls for fixes to USPS delays and reduced costs for election mail

“Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service is vital to our democracy,” wrote Sen. Doug Jones and 46 other senators to the U.S. postmaster general.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and 46 Senate colleagues in a letter to the U.S. postmaster general on Thursday expressed serious concerns over changes that will increase the cost of citizens to vote.

“Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service is vital to our democracy. Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic,” the senators wrote in the letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. 

President Donald Trump on Thursday repeated statements he’s made that the U.S. Postal Service won’t be able to process mail-in ballots in the November election without the needed federal funding, which he is withholding. 

“They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion—billion—for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo Thursday morning. “Those are just two items. But if you don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting. Because they’re not equipped to have it.”

DeJoy in recent days has ordered major reshuffling in the Postal Service’s management ranks, ordered a hiring freeze and made other cuts. Secretaries of state nationwide were also notified that instead of the 20-cent bulk rate for election mail, as has been used for decades, now it would cost 55 cents to send such mail via first-class postage. 

The Postal Service in previous elections treated all election mail, no matter how much was spent on postage, as first-class and as such expedited delivery. The recent announcement signals that election mail not sent first class will not receive the same expedited delivery times, worrying many that DeJoy, appointed by the Postal Service’s majority-Republican board in May, is attempting to exert political influence into mail delivery just before the presidential election. 

Trump has repeatedly said, without factual cause, that mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud. Mail-in voting has surged across the country in recent elections and even more so amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Several states — including California, Colorado and Washington — conduct all elections almost entirely by mail.

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Mail-in voting fraud is incredibly rare, according to The Brennan Center for Justice, which noted that in Oregon, a state that votes primarily by mail, only about a dozen cases of voter fraud were proven out of 100 million mail-in ballots since 2000. 

“As Postmaster General, you have a duty to our democracy to ensure the timely delivery of election mail. Millions of Americans’ right to vote depends on your ability to get the job done. We urge you not to increase costs for election officials, and to direct all Postal Service employees to continue to prioritize delivery of election mail,” the senators’ letter continues.

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Elections

Alabama State Fraternal Order of Police endorses Russell Bedsole

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama House District 49 Republican candidate Russell Bedsole.

The Alabama State Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Republican candidate Russell Bedsole in the special election in Alabama House of Representatives District 49. Bedsole is a Captain with the Shelby County sheriff’s Department and currently serves on the Alabaster City Council.

“There is no doubt that our country, state, and communities are facing extreme challenges,” said Everette Johnson, the president of the Alabama State FOP. “These challenges have caused stress, divisiveness, and concern for the future of our country. Now more than ever, we need strong, yet compassionate, leaders to guide us through these turbulent times. We need leaders who understand how important the safety of our communities should be and the willingness to work together for all. Russell Bedsole is that leader.”

Bedsole said it is an honor to be endorsed by the Alabama State Fraternal Order of Police.

“As a representative of District 49, I will work to protect law and order in our communities and stand up for our conservative Christian values in Montgomery,” he said.

Bedsole and competitor Mimi Penhale were the top two vote-getters in the Republican primary runoff. Chuck Martin, who came in third, has also endorsed Bedsole.

“I wanted to again thank those that voted for me, supported me by putting up signs and making phone calls,” Martin said in a statement on social media. “I also want to thank those who also made donations to fund my campaign. Since I came in third, Russell Bedsole and Mimi Penhale have both ask for my endorsement. I want to ask those that supported me to support Russell Bedsole. Both candidates are great people, but Debbie and I made the decision to support Russell.”

Bedsole has been elected twice by the citizens of Alabaster to represent the city’s fifth ward on the Alabaster City Council. Bedsole’s campaign said that during his time of service, Alabaster has benefited from positive economic growth, a first-class school system and a high quality of life. He has also received endorsements from the Shelby County Fraternal Order of Police, Alabama Association of Nurse Anesthetists and Conservation Alabama.

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A runoff election for the District 49 seat will be held on Sept. 1.

“I humbly ask for your vote on September 1 to grant me the opportunity to serve District 49,” Bedsole said.

The special election is being held to fill the seat left vacant when Rep. April Weaver, R-Briarfield, joined President Donald Trump’s administration as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services. House District 49 includes portions of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties. The eventual Republican nominee will face Democratic nominee Cheryl Patton in the Special General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The winner will serve the remainder of April Weaver’s term, which ends in late 2022.

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