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Chip Brown introduces bill to allow judge to deny bail to violent offenders

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, State Representative Chip Brown (R – Mobile) and Angela Harris, the mother of Auburn murder victim Aniah Blanchard, were in Montgomery urging legislators to support a proposed Alabama Constitutional amendment that allows prosecutors and judges broader discretion in requesting and denying bail to those accused of committing violent crimes.

Section 16 of the 1901 Constitution of Alabama currently requires that “all persons shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses, when the proof is evident or the presumption great; and that excessive bail shall not in any case be required.”

Brown’s bill allows bail to be denied to those who place the public at risk with their release, and it amends the Constitution to read:

”If no conditions of release can reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm to the accused, the public, or both, ensure the presence of the accused at trial, or ensure the integrity of the judicial process, the accused may be detained without bail. Excessive bail shall not in any case be imposed or required.”

Ibraheed Yazeed is currently being held on capital murder charges for the November slaying of 19-year-old college student Aniah Blanchard. At the time of Blanchard’s murder, Yazeed was out on bond for several violent offenses including kidnapping and attempted murder. Yazeed was awarded bail despite more than a dozen priors, which included drug and robbery arrests.

Brown said that his bill would be filed on the first day of the 2020 legislative session, which begins on February 4.

“I have support from both sides of that aisle,” Brown said. This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, “This is a public safety issue.”

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Brown introduced similar legislation in 2019. It passed the Alabama House of Representatives 92 to 3; but was never acted upon by the State Senate.

“It will be called Anaih’s law,” Brown said. I have spoken with the District Attorneys Association, the Sheriffs Association, and the Police Chiefs Association, District Attorneys Association and they are all supportive of the bill.

“This is a must. We have to have this law,” said Ms. Harris, Anaih’s mother. “We have to do something.”

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“I know that Anaih is looking down and she is very proud of the people fighting for this,” Harris added.

Brown said that Senator David Sessions (R) will also be sponsoring the same version of this bill in the Senate. “We are coming at it from both directions.”

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: A few years ago the legislature passed sentencing reform where parole violators were sent to jail for a few days instead of returning to prison. That helped prison overcrowding some, but resulted in massive overcrowding in county jails. Are you concerned that this will adversely impact the 67 county jails in the state?

“I am not I have spoken with several Sheriffs and they are supportive of this law.” Brown said. “This will be done on a cases by case base. It is important that it does not mandate that a judge denies bail. It gives judges another tool. It takes the worst of the worst off the streets. Concerning jail overcrowding, I am not concerned with that at all.”

“If we would have passed it last year it would have been on the ballot for the primary on March third,” Brown said. “If we pass it in this session it will be on the November ballot for 2020.”

Brown said that currently a defendant can be denied bail if they are accused of capital murder or because he violated the provisions of his bond. “This gives district attorneys the ability to say that this person is going to be a violent threat to the community.”

Reporters asked Harris how she felt when she learned that Yazeed was out on bond for attempted murder and kidnapping

“Anger. Anger, disbelief really that that could have happened,” Harris said. “I will talk to anybody to pass this. This is my fight.”

The Alabama Media Group’s Mike Cason asked Brown if he was concerned that this would be challenged in federal court under the right to bail under the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

“No, the federal courts deny bail frequently for these same reasons,” Brown said. “I have had constitutional scholars look at it. I am extremely confident that it would survive any eighth amendment challenge.”

The 2020 legislative session begins on February 4.

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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Thieves targeting food stamp recipients via text messages

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Human Resources on Wednesday warned the public that thieves are targeting people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit cards, commonly known as food stamps, through text messages. 

The text messages typically request personal information, including Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and SNAP electronic benefits transfer card or PIN numbers, the department said in a press release.

Some text messages also falsely claim people have been selected to receive food stamps.

“Identity thieves are using new tricks in hopes of catching SNAP recipients off guard during this time of heightened uncertainty,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner in a statement. “It is so important to take the precautions necessary to protect your identity, along with the integrity of this vital program. Following these simple but effective tips can greatly reduce your risk of harm.”

DHR recommends these tips to protect against the scam:

  • Never provide personal information to an unfamiliar person or organization.
  • If a text message seems like a scam, delete it. Do not reply. 
  • Do not click on any links in an unexpected text message.
  • Beware that scammers often pressure victims to “act now!”
  • If an offer or claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Do not trust caller ID. Scammers can use “spoofing” technology to disguise their phone numbers.

SNAP recipients who are unsure if a request for information is legitimate should contact their local DHR office at a verified phone number. Contact information is available here.

The Food Assistance Division of DHR administers the SNAP program in Alabama. More information about the program can be found here.

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John Paul Dejnozka, the “Southwest Molester,” dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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John Paul Dejnozka, 76, died on Sept. 9. (VIA ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS)

John Paul Dejnozka, 76, died on Sept. 9 after testing positive for COVID-19, becoming the 21st Alabama inmate to have died after being confirmed to have the disease.

Dejnozka, who was dubbed the “Southwest Molester,” was convicted in 1980 in connection with the assault of at least 18 women in their homes, attacking, torturing and raping some of them, according to news accounts. He was sentenced to 830 years on convictions of two counts of rape, two counts of assault with intent to maim, one count of burglary and assault with intent to ravish, 11 counts of first-degree burglary and one count of second-degree burglary.

Dejnozka, who was serving at the Holman Correctional Facility, was tested for COVID-19 after exhibiting symptoms of the disease, according to a press release from the Alabama Department of Corrections. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment, where he remained until his death.

ADOC also announced that six other inmates at Holman prison and one at Ventress Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19. In total, 393 Alabama inmates have tested positive for coronavirus, of which 45 remain active, according to ADOC. As of Sept. 6 the state had tested 1,886 of Alabama’s approximately 22,000 inmates for COVID-19.

There have been 372 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Alabama prison workers, while 340 have since recovered, according to the department. Two workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women died after testing positive for the disease.

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Governor announces grant to aid domestic violence victims amid COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced approval of a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help domestic violence victims access help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence is using the funds to provide direct services and support during COVID-19 for victims of family, domestic and dating violence, Ivey’s office said in a press release.

“The global pandemic has made many aspects of our lives more challenging, including the ability to seek help due to domestic violence,” Ivey said in a statement. “I commend the work of the staff at the coalition who are working every day to help those in need during the additional challenges posed by COVID-19.”

The coalition supports shelters throughout Alabama and operates regional 24-hour crisis telephone lines for victims needing information or seeking to escape violent situations. It also provides training and technical assistance for police and others who encounter domestic violence situations and helps develop public policy to reduce domestic violence and ensure victims receive proper services.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant from funds made available as part of the CARES Act.

“ADECA stands with Gov. Ivey in support of the coalition and other likeminded organizations as they work throughout the state to provide vital help to domestic violence victims,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said in a statement. “The partnership between ADECA and the coalition helps ensure that this level of assistance will continue to be available throughout the state even during a pandemic.”

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Appeals court upholds Lowndes County capital murder conviction

Brandon Moseley

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Twins Jordan and Taylor Dejerinett and their 73-year-old caregiver, Jack Mac Girdner

Attorney General Steve Marshall said this week that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction of Deandra Marquis Lee on capital murder during a robbery.

Lee, 24, is from Montgomery and was convicted in Lowndes County Circuit Court in October 2018 for the 2012 murders of 9-year-old twins Jordan and Taylor Dejerinett and their 73-year-old caregiver, Jack Girdner.

On Friday, the Court of Criminal Appeals released a decision upholding Lee’s conviction.

On June 3, 2012, Terrye Moorer dropped off her twins, Jordan and Taylor Dejerinett, with Girdner, their caregiver who was also Moorer’s friend from church.

That evening, when Moorer drove to Girdner’s residence to pick up her children, no one was home so Moorer filed a police report. On June 5, 2012, the bodies of Girdner and the two children were found on a dirt road off of Alabama Highway 21 in Lowndes County.

The police determined that Lee was a chief suspect based upon reports that he was seen driving Girdner’s white Mercedes on the day of the murders and the last call made to Girdner’s phone was from a number belonging to Lee’s mother.

Lee’s cousin, Joe Hamilton, testified that on June 3, Lee took Hamilton home in a white Mercedes that had a skateboard and a bag in the back.

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Moorer testified that her children had similar items with them when she left them with Girdner. Lee’s fingerprints were also found inside Girdner’s vehicle.

Lee told several people that he murdered Girdner but not the children.

Curtis Robinson, who was incarcerated with Lee in Autauga County, testified that Lee “went there to commit burglary and it turned to something else.”

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Robinson testified that Lee told him he killed Girdner and the two children.

Lowndes County District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer’s office prosecuted this case and obtained a guilty verdict. Lee was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Lee subsequently sought to have his conviction reversed on appeal.

The Attorney General’s Criminal Appeals Division handled the case during the appeals process, arguing for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to affirm Lee’s convictions.

Alabama Attorney General Marshall commended Assistant Attorney General John Davis for his successful work on this case and thanked the State Bureau of Investigation and the district attorney and her staff for their valuable assistance in defending the capital murder conviction.

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