Montez Spradley, who was sentenced to death in Alabama for a 2004 murder he did not commit, was released from prison in September 2015. He had spent 9.5 years behind bars, 3.5 years of them on death row. He is 32 years old.
The ACLU's Capital Punishment Project filed a direct appeal brief in the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals challenging Montez Spradley’s conviction and death sentence. The state’s evidence against Mr. Spradley, a young African-American man convicted of killing a 58-year-old white grandmother, was alarmingly thin and riddled with inconsistencies. No physical evidence or eyewitness testimony connected him to the murder. The appeal raised numerous legal challenges to his conviction. It also challenged the trial judge’s decision to override the jury’s 10-2 recommendation of life imprisonment and to sentence Mr. Spradley to death.
In a victory for the rule of law, on September 30, 2011 a unanimous Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial for Mr. Spradley. Reversing his conviction and death sentence on four separate grounds, the Court recognized that multiple errors in his trial resulted in a “miscarriage of justice.” The Court found that the "bulk of the State's evidence against Spradley was improperly admitted." The Court did not address the jury override, since it ordered a new trial altogether.
At risk of another wrongful conviction and death sentence during this new trial, Spradley chose to enter an Alford -- or "Best Interest" -- plea, which guaranteed that he would be able to leave prison without having to admit guilt.