Joint judiciary committee OKs Fair Justice Act
by Rachel Davis
Jan 23, 2014 | 997 views | 0 0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The joint Alabama Senate and House Judiciary committees on Wednesday approved the two bills that make up the Fair Justice Act, which would expedite the death row appeals process and extend the definition of a capital crime, as well as offering protection for witnesses and jurors in those cases.

The measure allows the two types of appeals available to death row inmates to run consecutively. The current system requires that one set of appeals be exhausted before the second type of appeal can begin. The system is modeled after the system used in Texas, which has been held up as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court.

It also expands the types of crimes that can be considered capital crimes, such as school shootings.

“Death penalty appeals seem endless, with excessive delays that serve only to prolong pain and postpone justice for the victims of these heinous crimes,” said Attorney General Luther Strange. “We are proposing fair and sensible changes to make the system work better for everyone. We also want to send a clear message that we will not tolerate attacks on children at schools, with changes in the law that specify it is a capital crime to murder them and others who are particularly vulnerable.”

Denise Gurganus, of Cordova, who testified in front of the joint committees Tuesday, expressed relief that the legislation was moving forward.

“That is wonderful,” she said when reached by phone Wednesday. “It makes me so happy that this is moving forward.”

Gurganus is the sister of Karen Lane, who was 32 when her boyfriend Gregory Hunt brutally beat her to death and sexually assaulted her with a broom handle. The murder occurred 26 years ago and Hunt has been on death row at Holman Correctional Facility for 24 years.

Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair, who also testified in front of the judiciary committees, remembers the murder case vividly.

It was the first capital murder case in the county in more than four decades at that time. He was a young assistant district attorney at the time and remembers the gruesome scene in Karen Lane’s kitchen. He has been an avid supporter of the expedited death penalty measure largely because of his continued relationship with Lane’s family.

“Justice still hasn’t been served in this case, and that’s just not acceptable,” Adair said Tuesday after his testimony.

Attorney General Luther Strange sent out a press release late Wednesday applauding the approval.