Madison County DA's Office explains long process in death penalty cases

The appeals process is one of the biggest expenses involved.

Posted: Oct 22, 2021 8:04 PM
Updated: Oct 22, 2021 8:05 PM

WAAY-31 is looking for answers to long delays in carrying out a death sentence in Alabama.

Willie Smith’s death by lethal injection Thursday night comes almost 30 years after he murdered a woman in Birmingham. The Madison County district attorney's office told us they understand people want to know answers.

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2017, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington, at sunset. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2017, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington, at sunset. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

A top prosector in the office told us the short answer is the appeals process, which helps ensure everyone gets treated fairly. It can cost taxpayers a lot of money to house death-row inmates, but the biggest expense involves the appeals aimed at making sure their sentence is just.

"The cost is high," said Tim Gann, chief deputy for the Madison County DA's office. "The time that it takes to prosecute one of these cases, the time it takes to get it through the system is a factor, and look, if we're going to seek the death penalty and ask the state to extinguish someone's life, all these appeals are somewhat necessary so that we can ensure that the defendant is treated fairly."

The DA's office said they're dealing with 30 capital murder cases at the moment. Gann said he understands, as a taxpayer, how irritating the process can be, but it has to stand to make it fair and keep safeguards in place for all parties involved.

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