Former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley, who fought to bring back the death penalty after the Supreme Court outlawed it in 1972, said that an innocent man is on death row.
“I have long believed that some crimes are so horrendous as to demand the penalty of death,” Baxley wrote in a Tuesday op-ed for The Washington Post. “As a lifelong defender of the death penalty, I do not lightly say what follows: An innocent man is trapped on Alabama’s death row.”
Baxley, who served as the attorney general of Alabama from 1971 to 1979, signed an amicus brief filed March 9 requesting that Toforest Johnson be granted a new trial. (RELATED: Alabama Woman Gets Death Penalty After Starving Her 10-Year-Old Daughter)
As a former Alabama attorney general, I do not say this lightly: An innocent man is on our death row https://t.co/7zE3wo163c
— Eddie S. Glaude Jr. (@esglaude) March 10, 2021
“Johnson’s murder trial was so deeply flawed, the evidence presented against him so thin, that no Alabamian should tolerate his incarceration, let alone his execution,” Baxley wrote.
Johnson is accused of shooting Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy William Hardy in the head and killing him while Hardy was in uniform. The incident, which occurred shortly after midnight July 19, 1995, happened in the parking lot of a hotel where Hardy worked a second job as a security guard. (RELATED: The Supreme Court Is Struggling To Conceal A Heated Rift Over The Death Penalty)
The facts of the case clearly point to Johnson’s innocence, Baxley wrote. The former attorney general noted that there is no physical evidence tying Johnson to the crime, multiple witnesses saw him at a different location than where the crime occurred at the time of the murder, and the only witness against him – who said she heard someone she thought was Johnson confess to the crime – was paid $5,000 for her testimony.
“The defense was not informed of this payment,” Baxley said. “Most shockingly, though, the prosecution presented five completely different theories of who killed Hardy at different court proceedings.”
In his 56-year career as an Alabama attorney, the former attorney general has only twice discovered that a man he believed was innocent was set to die – the first was Clarence Norris, the last survivor of the Scottsboro Boys. Then-Gov. George Wallace pardoned Norris in 1976 after Baxley made the case that he did not deserve to die. (RELATED: Supreme Court Allows Execution Of Muslim Man Denied Company Of His Imam)
“I know most of the people involved in this case, including judges and attorneys on both sides, and I believe them to be good people,” Baxley said of Johnson’s case. “Somehow, though, this case came off the tracks. Good people sometimes make serious mistakes. But it’s not too late to correct them.”