Ala. inmate waits 18 years for retrial after conviction overturned, dies on death row
By JAY REEVES , Associated Press
Last update: June 19, 2008 - 4:09 PM
TALLADEGA, Ala. - More than a decade ago, a frustrated judge vowed there would be no more delays in the stalled retrial of death row inmate Shep Wilson Jr.
But the postponements only continued: a mental evaluation, a sick attorney, changes of judges and prosecutors, and a blizzard of legal papers. By the time he died in prison last week of natural causes, Wilson had waited nearly 18 years without ever getting a new trial in the slaying of a teenage store clerk.
Was it a case of justice denied or the justice system played? Prosecutors said their case was solid, and defense lawyers admitted in court papers that Wilson would probably have been convicted in a second trial and possibly sentenced to death.
"Sometimes in a death penalty case, they say delay is in favor of the defendant. This might be one of those cases," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, said Thursday.
Dieter said most retrials take only one or two years to get to court. "Eighteen years? I've never heard of anyone waiting that long," he said.
The case file -- five volumes of yellowing paper -- tells the story of at least a dozen trial dates that came and went because of delays caused by hundreds of legal requests, scheduling conflicts and a prisoner who believed he would be found innocent someday, somehow.
The defense team never pushed for a speedy trial, and a succession of three different district attorneys and two judges never got Wilson back in front of a jury before he died at age 50.
Wilson's two sons and six siblings buried him Tuesday. The family was thankful that the state of Alabama didn't get a chance to execute him but angry that he never got another day in court.
"They didn't do him right. They did what they wanted to do: Let him sit there," said sister Suzanne Dates.
A relative of the slain clerk said Wilson got what he deserved -- life in a 6 foot-by-8 foot cell.Source: http://www.startribune.com/nation/20575369.html