VICTORY! One Less Person Faces Execution in Alabama

One less person faces possible death at the hands of Alabama’s arbitrary capital punishment system, after the State agreed to stop seeking the death penalty for ACLU client LaSamuel Gamble late last week. Gamble, who has been on death row for nearly 16 years, was resentenced to life in prison without parole.

Gamble was a mere 18 years old when he accompanied his 16-year old friend Marcus Presley on a robbery of a pawn shop just outside of Birmingham. During the robbery, Presley shot and killed the two employees at the store. Both Gamble and Presley received death sentences for the crime, but Presley’s sentence was converted to life when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the death penalty could not be imposed on defendants who were under 18 at the time of the crime.

In 2007, while Gamble challenged his death sentence in state post-conviction proceedings, the prosecutor who had personally tried both men, District Attorney Robby Owens, testified that it would no longer be just to execute Gamble, the non-shooter, when Presley, the shooter, was now safe from execution. But then-Attorney General Troy King, disagreed. King, who saw an opportunity for political gain, publicly criticized Owens and declared that he would continue pursuing the death penalty against Gamble. Forty-one out of the 42 District Attorneys across the State spoke out against King’s actions.

That year, Gamble’s death sentence was reversed by the same judge who presided over his original capital trial, after lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights showed that Gamble’s trial lawyers had inadequately represented him by failing to present mitigating evidence that could have helped him avoid a death sentence. After the state appellate court affirmed the decision in 2010, the State had the choice of continuing to seek Gamble’s execution or punishing him with a sentence of life imprisonment. Because the State announced that it would continue to seek death, the ACLU joined Gamble’s defense team for the new sentencing trial.  But last week, Troy King’s successor Luther Strange left politics behind and reached the right result in agreeing to a life without parole sentence for Gamble. 

The odds were stacked against LaSamuel Gamble from birth. He entered a world of abject poverty, extreme violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and chaotic instability. Both of his parents suffered from severe mental illnesses that, without support, prevented them from properly caring for their children. Gamble attended 13 schools through the seventh grade and had lived in more than 40 different households by his 18th birthday. Social service records described one of these residences as a “rundown shack,” with 23 relatives crammed into four rooms; the City of Birmingham eventually condemned it. The courts agreed that this evidence likely would have made a difference in Gamble’s trial.

The odds were especially stacked against him at his first trial, when, as a young African-American man, he was tried by an all-white jury and represented by ineffective lawyers. In fact, his lawyers spent less than three hours with him preparing a defense against a death sentence. They did not meet his family members until the trial started, at the courthouse. Without a statewide public defender system in Alabama, poor capital defendants roll the dice when the court appoints counsel. Had Gamble’s attorneys had the training and resources to uncover the wealth of powerful mitigating evidence, these 16 years of litigation concerning his sentence could have been avoided.

Though he entered as a child, Gamble has grown up in prison. He is remorseful for his role in this tragic crime. When I visited him after court last week, he said he had been busy counseling his new neighbors at the county jail. Two of them had upcoming birthdays, and he told them to look carefully at their birthday cards and think about how it feels to spend the day behind bars. He asked them to remember that feeling when they are back out on the street and considering doing something that will land them right back in jail. He may not be able to change the course of his life anymore, he said, but he could help others change theirs. 

Alabama continues to lead the nation in death sentences and executions per capita. As long as the state continues to seek the death penalty against those who did not kill, mixes politics into the decision of who lives and who dies, and fails to provide adequate counsel to indigent capital defendants, it will continue to bear this shameful badge.  In the meantime, removing LaSamuel Gamble from death row is one small step in the right direction.

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Victory? These Bastards killed people in cold blood and deserve the death penalty! People like you that fight against the death penalty are the reason there is so much crime. I wonder if you would still be campaigning if it happened to someone you loved?


Victory for criminals they don't deserve

Matt CW

"People like you that fight against the death penalty are the reason there is so much crime."

erm, these two killed in cold blood DESPITE the death penalty. "People like you" make me sick with your ignorance. The death penalty doesn't change anything. In fact, it arguably makes things worse as it reinforces an environment for violence and gives people, particularly young, naive, kids, a sense of oppression and something to rebel against.

A life for a life is so medieval. Everyone is somebody's child, and if you've experienced loss like this then the last thing you should want is to inflict such a punishment on another innocent mother.

and just what if you are wrong? If only 1% of these sentences are later proved false, that becomes 1% too many and then, if that person has been put to death already, then you and the state are now murderers. Does that mean you ought to be on Death Row? You certainly cannot argue you were justified in killing if that person was innocent.

It makes me so mad. I don't understand people who believe the death penalty is a deterrent. That is so naive. Nobody commits a crime thinking they will be caught. They only do it in the first place because they either think they'll get away with it, or it is done on impulse, & in neither situation do consequences have any bearing.

Therefore, the only reason for having the death penalty is to exact revenge, and your final sentence "I wonder if you would still be campaigning if it happened to someone you love" demonstrates that precise point. For a modern, civilised state to be persisting with policies driven solely by revenge is unacceptable. And rather than being protected by such policies, I don't know how anybody can feel safe living under a regime that kills.

The way forward is to reform & believe people can change. Give them something to live for, not fight against. People who commit these crimes usually come from a background where, on some level, they've been neglected and they lash out. Such reactions are especially prevalent in youngsters who, once grown up & with a bit of support, often regret their actions hugely. If you can turn them around, then I see that as a life saved. My interpretation of "a life for a life" is not "take a life for a life taken" but "save a life for a life taken". That is what will improve society.

You will always have the exception. There will always be a bad apple in the bunch which cannot be saved, but the trick is to segregate that apple so that it does not taint the rest. If you pile them all into the same basket, they will all go bad.


Victory? Are you even aware of what these scumbag waste of a fetus did? They took innocent lives of people who just going to work to make money thinking itd be a normal day and at the end go home. But they didnt. The way you have this titled you make it sound like you're on these jerks side. Also when these people sit in prison all these WE have to pay for it. Im a strong supporter of the death penalty and I think YOU need to RETHINK youre priorities.


I am a proud civil libertarian and decidedly opposed to the death penalty, however I find the defiant, celebratory tone of this post both unsettling and obnoxious. The commutations were both proper and in the best interests of American justice, but we should not forget that the guilt of both offenders in this particular case is clear and very well substantiated. While it is fully appropriate to celebrate saving a life, we should simultaneously be mindful of the anguish of the victims. An appropriate degree of deference and gravitas is shamefully absent here. The ACLU can do far better.

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