Alabama court voids death sentence, citing mental disability

September 15, 2018 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s Supreme Court on Friday voted 5-4 to overturn the death sentence of a Birmingham man convicted in a 2009 robbery and shooting, instead directing a Jefferson County judge to sentence Anthony Lane to life without possibility of parole.

The ruling came after the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered Alabama’s courts to reconsider the death sentence in 2015, citing cases that say states can’t execute people with mental disabilities. However, even after that, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals had reaffirmed that Lane should get the death penalty.


The Alabama attorney general’s office conceded in the case that the trial court shouldn’t have sentenced Lane to death, filing a joint motion with the defense.

Lane confessed that he killed Frank Wright at a car wash, stole his wallet and car, and then partially burned the car in an attempt to conceal evidence. Wright’s wallet was found in the car.

“It is undisputed that Lane has an IQ of 70,” Associate Justice William Sellers wrote for the majority Friday. “The state has never seriously argued that his intellectual functioning is anything but significantly subaverage. Rather, the dispute has centered around whether Lane also has the requisite deficits in adaptive skills necessary to render him intellectually disabled.”

Sellers wrote that clinical neuropsychologist Dr. John Goff has chronicled that Lane had deficits in all of those adaptive skills as laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court. That evidence was presented to the trial court and the state didn’t present its own expert, but the trial judge sentenced Lane to death following a 10-2 recommendation by the jury. Sellers wrote that the judge’s reasoning in sentencing Lane didn’t follow the rules.

“The state has indicated that it concedes that the evidence established that Lane is intellectually disabled and that the trial court simply substituted its own standards for intellectual disability for those accepted by the medical community,” Sellers wrote.

Two dissenters say the majority was acting prematurely because the state didn’t file its motion in a procedurally proper way.

“The State may have very good reasons to concede the issue. Lane may very well be entitled to a judgment in his favor. But there is a better, more procedurally proper way to do this,” Associate Justice Greg Shaw wrote in a dissent joined by Associate Justice Kelly Wise.


Shaw also argued Alabama should more closely examine whether the Supreme Court case which determined intellectually disabled people are not eligible for the death penalty applies to Lane. Shaw wrote that Lane failed to prove to the trial judge that he “exhibited significant or substantial deficits in adaptive behavior”

Justices Tom Parker and Tommy Bryan dissented without stating any written reasons.