Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for accused UAH shooter Amy Bishop,
but not many women receive that sentence in Alabama.
Since the state began keeping records of its executions in the 1920s, four of
the 217 inmates executed have been women.
Of the 197 inmates currently on death row, four are women. Three were convicted
of killing one of their children, and the 4th faces a death sentence for
arranging the murder of her husband, who had testified against her before a
grand jury in a bigamy case.
The last woman executed in Alabama was Lynda Block, in 2002, for the shooting
death of an Opelika police officer.
Bishop, a Harvard-trained biologist and mother of 4, has been in the Madison
County jail since her arrest after the Feb. 12, 2010, fatal shootings at the
University of Alabama in Huntsville of three fellow biology department
colleagues and the wounding of three others during a faculty meeting.MO< She is
charged with killing biology professors Dr. Maria Ragland Davis and Dr. Adriel
Johnson, and biology department chair Gopi Podila. She also is charged with
attempting to kill professors Dr. Joseph Leahy and Dr. Luis Cruz-Vera, and
staff assistant Stephanie Monticciolo.
Bishop is set to go on trial for capital murder March 19, but it is not clear
if jury selection will actually begin on that date.
Her court-appointed attorneys Barry Abston, Roy Miller and Robert Tuten have
petitioned the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to direct the trial judge,
Circuit Judge Alan Mann, to delay the case until the state releases money to
pay for expert witnesses and diagnostic testing of Bishop by a neurologist.
Bishop's attorneys have indicated they will pursue a defense of not guilty by
reason of mental disease or defect. In order for that defense to prevail, the
defense has to show that Bishop had a serious mental disease or defect at the
time the crime was committed and that it prevented her from understanding right
Mann has issued at least 4 orders to the state comptroller's office to make
payments to defense experts, but the state has declined, according to the court
filing by Bishop's attorneys.
Clinton Carter, deputy director of the Alabama Department of Finance, said the
state is preparing its response to the criminal appeals court, which on Feb. 2
gave it 21 days to reply.
Carter said the state maintains the position that the law "does not allow for
the prepayment of expert witness fees prior to the completion of work."
The defense has argued that without the expert witness assistance and related
testing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Bishop's constitutional
right to a fair trial will be violated.
Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard is prosecuting Bishop, along
with assistant prosecutors Tim Gann and Maggie Golden Wallace.
Judge Mann has issued a gag order in the case, and the attorneys are barred
from commenting on the decision to seek the death penalty and other pre-trial
Mark McDaniel, a Huntsville attorney who has been practicing law for 35 years
and has tried numerous capital cases, said the defense has to tread carefully
with a jury that will consider the question of life or death.
"I always tell lawyers, 'Your primary focus in a capital case is to save your
client's life,' " McDaniel said. "Every case is different, but in 90 percent of
cases it's not a 'whodunit' case, and there is no dispute she did this. If the
case is overwhelmingly against you and if you jump on every state's witness and
attack the prosecutors, then you're going to lose credibility with that jury in
the most important thing you're going to ask them, which is not to kill your
A capital murder trial has potentially 2 distinct parts: the guilt or innocence
phase, and if there is a conviction, the penalty phase. If someone charged with
capital murder is convicted, they can only receive 1 of 2 sentences, life in
prison without parole or the death penalty.
The expert testimony and neurological information being sought by Bishop's
lawyers are likely to play a role in both phases if Bishop is convicted. The
defense has the burden of proof in arguing for "not guilty by reason of
insanity," and Bishop's mental condition at the time of the shootings will be
the focus of those arguments.
There will be much for the jury to consider, but given the low number of
Alabama executions involving women, could Bishop's gender play a decisive role?
"When I first started out 35 years ago, it would have been easier to represent
a woman on a capital murder charge and save her because people just didn't want
to vote the death penalty for a woman in most cases," attorney McDaniel said.
"But those times are over. Given the role of women in the workplace, their
educational backgrounds and the number of women in positions of power, I think
younger and middle-aged jurors would treat a woman defendant the same.
"If I was picking this jury, if the idea is to save her life, I'd want older
jurors. That generation is more likely to say, 'A sane woman wouldn't do
(source: The Huntsville Times)