A trial is supposed to be a search for the truth. That can never be more important than in a death penalty case, when someone's life is at stake.
It seems that this simple sentiment has been forgotten by the state of Alabama, which has been trying to send Montez Spradley to death row for the last several years for a crime he did not commit. The problem? Securing a capital conviction seems to be much more important to the prosecution than the search for the truth. And it is just this sort of problem that can lead to the ultimate horror: an innocent man on death row.
Let's start with Alabama's first attempt to sentence Spradley to death. His first trial was so riddled with misconduct and error that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his conviction and death sentence on four separate grounds and ordered a new trial, finding that his trial had resulted in a "miscarriage of justice."
The revelations of misconduct continued last week during a pre-trial hearing in Birmingham as part of that new trial. The State's case against Spradley has always been flimsy – resting heavily on incriminating statements from its star witness, Spradley's ex-girlfriend. When she took the stand last week, she revealed that her original testimony was not the truth. She testified that she had tried to recant to law enforcement before the trial but that officials threatened to prosecute her and take her children away if she didn't stick with her story. They offered – and ultimately paid – her $10,000 in reward money. None of this information was revealed to defense counsel at Spradley's original trial. It only came to light once the ACLU began investigating the case.
What's deeply troubling is that despite all of these errors, the State is still trying to send Spradley to death row. The prosecution maintains that it had no knowledge that a reward was paid to her or any witness in the case, even after Spradley's death sentence and conviction were reversed and a new trial ordered. And now that there is indisputable proof that she was paid, the prosecution wants to call her a liar only when it suits them.
Unfortunately, Spradley's case is just the latest evidence that the death penalty system in Alabama, as throughout the country, is broken. This retrial is his second chance at justice. We will work hard in the hopes that he gets it.