Montez Spradley, Innocent Man, Released From Prison After 9.5 Years, 3.5 on Death Row

Affiliate: ACLU of Alabama
September 10, 2015 11:15 am

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Montez Spradley, who was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, was released from prison on Friday. He had spent 3.5 years on Alabama’s death row and a total of 9.5 years behind bars. He is 32 years old.

“Despite his innocence, Montez almost lost his life to our criminal justice system,” said Spradley’s attorney, Anna Arceneaux of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project. “The police, the prosecutor, and the judge at his first trial all made grave errors in Montez’s case. A system so flawed should not be trusted with people’s lives.”

“It was horrible, horrible to be on death row for a crime I didn’t do. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” said Spradley. “I can’t make up for the years I’ve missed, but I’m so glad to be alive so I can be there for my children.”

Spradley was arrested in 2004 for the murder of a 58-year-old woman, despite the absence of physical evidence and eyewitnesses. At trial two years later, the prosecution called as witnesses Spradley’s ex-girlfriend and a prisoner who had been in jail with him. The jury found Spradley guilty and voted 10-2 for a sentence of life without parole. The judge exercised “judicial override” — a power that allows Alabama judges to ignore a jury’s decision — and sentenced Spradley to death.

“Of the three states that have judicial override, Alabama is the only place where judges actively use it. They have sent dozens of people to death row even though the jurors had deliberated and voted for life without parole,” said Arceneaux. “Judicial override, with its trail of unfair death sentences, must be removed from Alabama law.”

While Spradley was on death row, ACLU attorneys discovered that the prosecution had paid Spradley’s ex-girlfriend $10,000 to testify at his trial and hadn’t disclosed this payment to the defense. In 2011, they won a reversal of Spradley’s conviction and death sentence, with the court describing the trial with its multiple errors as a “miscarriage of justice.”

“In Montez Spradley’s case, as in too many others, we see prosecutors using desperate jailhouse snitches and witnesses who are paid significant amounts of money,” said co-counsel Richard Jaffe of Jaffe, Hanle, Whisonant & Knight, PC. “These so called ‘witnesses’ will say anything even if it means putting an innocent man on death row. The jury never knew that a witness was paid $10,000, and the obvious lies did not seem to matter to the state. Montez Spradley, an innocent man, was nearly executed.”

After overturning Spradley’s conviction and death sentence, the state of Alabama refused to dismiss the murder charge against him. Spradley pleaded to a lesser charge rather than risk a new trial potentially tainted by the same problems that sent him to death row.

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