Montez Spradley, a young African American man was sentenced to death by an Alabama judge in 2008 over the jury’s 10-2 recommendation of a sentence of life without parole. He has been released from jail. He spent 9 and ½ years in prison, 3 ½ of those years on death row. He was granted a new trial in 2001 due to evidentiary errors at his trial. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals called his case a “miscarriage of justice.” The Court found that the “bulk of the State’s evidence against Spradley was improperly admitted.” The state’s key witness, his ex-girlfriend Alisha Booker, testified that she lied at trial because Spradley had cheated on her. According to the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, there was no physical evidence and no eyewitness testimony.
“I just felt he was doing me wrong,” she said.
She said that she previously admitted to lying, but police told her to keep quiet and stick to the original story or they would send her to jail and take her children away. Booker received $10,000 for her testimony.
Spradley agreed to take an Alford plea or a plea of no contest, sometimes known as a best interest plea, in which the defendant maintains innocence, but recognizes that the prosecution can convince a jury to convict them.
Alabama is one of only three states that allow judges to override a jury’s sentencing recommendation in death penalty cases. It is also the only state to use judicial overrides in the last 16 years.
In more than 90% of judicial overrides, judges overrule life in prison without parole verdicts in favor of imposing a death sentence. These overrides occur disproportionately against minorities and in election years.
Spradley said when he was released, “It was horrible, horrible to be on death row for a crime I didn’t do. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I can’t make up for the years I’ve missed, but I’m so glad to be alive so I can be there for my children.”
Spradley has been added to DPIC’s Partial Innocence list due to his no contest plea.