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Opinion | Is there really ever “a time to kill?”

Walt Merrell



Many years ago, as a younger lawyer, I was crossing the street to the Courthouse when I met a familiar black woman. We exchanged pleasantries, and she flattered me. “You sure do look like that lawyer on that movie, ‘A Time to Kill.’”

I appreciated the compliment, though I’m not sure how Matthew McConaughey, who played the lawyer in the movie, would feel about the comparison.

And contrary to the movie’s title, I’m also not sure there’s ever a time to kill.

That encounter years ago came to mind recently as I spent most of the day in the courtroom. We had a sentencing hearing on a murder case. I sat in our office hallway – it empties into the courtroom – weighing the importance of what was about to unfold.

Sitting next to me was a precious 7-year-old girl. Children are not allowed in the courtroom because of COVID-19, so she perched there, with a view through the open door. She is a beautiful child – a smile as bright as the North Star, eyes as vivid as any van Gogh canvas, and the sweet disposition of a Disney princess. She reminds me of my youngest daughter – loving, cheerful and compassionate. She melts me.

We talked for a minute about school and how much she loves math. Her bow and barrette swashing atop her head, she sheepishly looked up at me, and then back down to the floor, grinning. We laughed for a few minutes. She was a refreshing distraction from the heaviness of the room.

My thoughts drifted back to the murder case. During the trial, the defendant claimed the killing was justified. He admitted he shot the victim, who was unarmed, but insisted the victim was a threat to him. That it was a time to kill.

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In the movie “A Time to Kill,” Carl Lee Hailey, a black Mississippian, killed two white men in cold blood. Hailey killed them because they beat, raped and hung his daughter. On the witness stand, Hailey exclaimed, “Yes, I killed ‘em! And I hope they burn in hell!” He thought it was a time to kill.

As I drifted deeper into my thoughts, I felt a gentle, small hand take mine. I turned as she grasped my hand tighter, and tears rolled down her face. Leaning over, I put my arm around her, “Baby, what’s wrong?”

“I miss him. Why did he have to die? I miss him so much and I’m just …” Her voice broke. She turned her eyes to the floor and wiped her tears with her sleeve.


I didn’t have an answer. I struggled for words to tell a 7-year-old how to ease her pain, but I surely wanted to take it all from her. She melted me.

She didn’t think it was a time to kill.

The bailiff gave me a familiar head nod: The Judge was coming. I gave my little friend a big hug, and told her I had to go to work, but that I’d be back. She looked up at me, as if she saw hope in what I was about to do. Little did she know, I saw hope in her.

During the hearing, the defendant’s lawyer tried to mitigate the circumstances, suggesting that the victim had faults which contributed to killing and, but for those faults, no death would have occurred. He suggested there was a time to kill.

I responded by reminding the court that Phillip Parker, the defendant, could have called the police; that he could have stayed inside instead of advancing on the victim; that he secreted himself and ambushed the victim. And then, I reminded the Judge that my victim’s life mattered.

And it did. And it still does.

He was a father. He was a son. He was a brother. He was a human being. His life had value. His life mattered to that little girl; her flushed cheeks and tears evidenced that.

In the movie, in his closing arguments of the case, Matthew McConaughey asked the jury members to close their eyes. He methodically recounted the gruesome experience that Carl Lee Hailey’s daughter suffered. Finishing with a description of her being tossed off a bridge, McConaughey asked the jurors, “Can you see her? Can you see her laying there, blood soaked, semen soaked, urine soaked … battered and beaten? Can you see her?” Jurors began to cry.

“Now imagine she was white,” he said. Several jurors were visibly shaken by the notion.

My little friend – can you see her? With her beautiful smile and eyes so full of life, her long hair and pretty bows. Can you see her? Her name is Amani – and she is a little black girl.

Did you imagine she was white?

Tekevious Best’s life mattered to his sister Klarissa, a social worker from North Carolina. His life mattered to his other sister, Dacia, a college student. His life mattered to his two children, Hope and Trey. His life mattered to Florala Police Chief Sonny Bedsole and ALEA Agent Chris Inabinett, and Sheriff’s Investigator Mike Irwin.

His life mattered to his little cousin, Amani. His life mattered to me.

It was not a time to kill.

Unlike in the movie, our jury found Parker guilty of murdering Tekevious Best. Our jury agreed: This was not a time to kill. I don’t know what I would do if someone raped my daughter. Perhaps the same thing Carl Lee Hailey did, but it wouldn’t be right. Vengeance is not meant to be ours, says the Lord.

It’s never a time to rape or kill, regardless of skin color.

It’s never a time to kill a man simply because he is black.

It’s never a time to kill a police officer simply because of her job.

It’s never a time to kill someone because he busted out a window.

It was not a time to kill Tekevious Best.

I don’t know if there is ever a time to kill.

I am heartbroken. I work every day to combat the evil of this world, and I don’t care about someone’s skin color. Evil doesn’t have a color. Neither does a victim’s grief.

Recently, I feared evil was winning. It seemed that because of the chaos in the world, no one was willing to listen or to talk. I was reminded of an old expression: “I’m sorry, I can’t hear what you are saying because your actions are too loud.”

But then, Amani took my hand. As tears rolled down her face,she sought comfort from me. She didn’t care what color my skin was. And I didn’t care what color hers was, either. In fact, I couldn’t see the color of her skin. I was too fixated on the hope I saw in her eyes.

Can you see it? Can you see the hope of the next generation? I pray you can, because we all need to pursue it – together.

There is never a time to kill the hope of a child.

Walt Merrell is district attorney for Covington County. You can follow him on Facebook.


Walt Merrell is the district attorney for the 22nd Judicial Circuit (Covington County) of Alabama. He is a lifelong Republican and a longtime member of the NRA. He is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Together with his wife and three girls, they spend a significant amount of time “in the woods or on the water.” They also manage an outdoors-based ministry, Shepherding Outdoors, @shepherdingoutdoors. You can also find him on Facebook @waltmerrell and @waltmerrellda and on Instagram at @waltmerrell. You can email him at [email protected]


Guest Columnists

Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1

Chris Christie




On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.

Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.

In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.

Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.

In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.

Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.

In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.

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According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.

And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.

The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protectingevery citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the every citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?


Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.  

The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.

Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.

Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.

Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran




The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

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On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt



Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

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In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.


Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco




The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

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We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.


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