Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Are All Murders Equal?

Before you answer yes to the question posed in today's topic, let us consider some different scenarios. A man kills his daughter's attacker, a second man kills his wife's boyfriend, a third kills an acquaintance in a drunken brawl, and a fourth kills a stranger for the cash in his pocket. Are all four murders equal? At least in Alabama, the fourth murder could possibly be the only one designated a capital crime. Yet even murders where a second crime is involved are not always prosecuted as capital offenses--think Shaun Shapley who murdered his stepdaughter during an attempted rape.

Alabama is one of only a handful of states that will sentence a white collar criminal to prison, yet will not consider premeditation grounds for capital charges. Our legal system is indeed an enigma.

Obviously, a district attorney, no matter how air-tight the case, is not guaranteed a guilty verdict. Plea bargains may look good in almost any capital case. Like Shaun Shapley, Kenneth Bradford Strickland pleaded guilty to a lesser offense in the 2007 death of Rusty Earnest. Until now, many of the facts concerning Earnest's murder have gone unpublished.

Rusty Earnest was a friend to many in the Shoals area, as well as Loretto and Athens where he had family. Lauderdale District Attorney Chris Connolly called the Strickland murder case one of the strangest he had ever prosecuted. Join us tomorrow as we begin our look at Rusty Earnest's life and death.

Did you know: Almost one in ten residents of Alabama Death Rows was convicted in the counties of Lauderdale, Colbert, and Franklin.