REPRESENTATION: Alabama Inmate--Failed by His Attorney--Is Executed Despite Jury's Vote for Life

Leroy White (pictured) was executed in Alabama on January 13 despite the fact that his trial jury, the prosecution, and members of the victim’s family had sought a different sentence. Shortly before his execution, he received a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his final motion. However, nearly three hours later the stay was lifted and he was executed for the 1988 murder of his estranged wife, Ruby White. During the time that the stay was in place, White sat alone and was not allowed to confer with his attorney. At the time of his trial, the jury recommended a life sentence, but Alabama is one of the few states in the country that allow the judge to override the jury and White was sentenced to death. The victim’s family and White’s daughter had asked for his life to be spared, and at one point the prosecution had offered a plea bargain. One of White’s earlier attorneys, G. James Benoit, admitted that he allowed his client to miss a critical appeal deadline, shortening the appeals process and expediting his execution. Benoit, who took over White’s case after another member of his firm was suspended, practiced transactional tax and corporate law, and had never been in a courtroom. He no longer practices law today. Bryan Stevenson, director of Equal Justice Initiative, took up White’s case last summer when the state asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set a date for his execution. White was surprised to hear that his execution date was approaching because he assumed he was still in the appeals process. In the week before his execution, Stevenson petitioned both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to delay White’s execution because of the missed appeal by his former attorney and his failure to inform White. According to Stevenson, “”The death penalty is not just about do people deserve to die for the crimes they are accused of, the death penalty is also about do we deserve to kill. If we don’t provide fair trials, fair review procedures, when we have executions that are unnecessarily cruel and distressing, or if we have a death penalty that is arbitrary or political or discriminatory, then we are all implicated.”

(B. Lawson, “Leroy White’s last few hours continued odd journey to his execution,” The Huntsville Times, January 15, 2011). See Arbitrariness and Representation.