NEW VOICES: Former Alabama Prosecutor Questions Value of Capital Punishment
Billy Hill spent seven years as a district attorney in Shelby, Coosa, and Clay counties in Alabama, and has reconsidered his stance on capital punishment. Mr. Hill says that he would welcome a moratorium on executions in Alabama while a study commission examines the state's death penalty to evaluate whether it is "a wise and humane use of our resources." Wrongful convictions, the arbitrary nature of capital punishment, poor representation, and the long-term suffering of victims' family members are among Hill's main concerns about current death penalty laws. He believes that life without parole is a better alternative for violent offenders. Hill now works as a Shelby County public defender.
In his criticisms of Alabama's death penalty, Hill notes that two innocent men have already been freed from the state's death row and that many others continue to await their execution without the benefit of "top-flight representation." With regard to the arbitrary nature of the states' capital punishment statute, Hill observes, "Do you realize that if two people are arguing on a street corner and one of them pulls a gun and kills the other one, that is simple murder? But, take the same scenario and put one of them in a car, and it becomes a capital case. . . . [I]n 30 years of observing violent offenders, I find 3 factors present in almost all of them: some kind of childhood abuse, either physical or sexual; some type of chemical dependence, either alcohol or drugs; and neurological damage." Hill also believes that the death penalty fails to serve the needs of victims' family members because execution dates are often set and then canceled several times during repeated appeals. "It just never goes away for the victim's family," said Hill.
Noting that the U.S. is one of the few industrialized nation in the world to use the death penalty, Hill said that he believes that life without parole is the more appropriate sentence for violent offenders. "A lot of people do not realize that in Alabama life without parole means you are not leaving prison except with your toes turned up," he said. If the state insists on keeping capital punishment, Hill observes that lawmakers should be prepared to pay to high costs associated with creating a system that is more fair and accurate.