The hearing was in regard to the proposed Fair Justice Act that would streamline and expedite the process for death row appeals, as well as providing witnesses and jurors some protection from “private investigations” which can occur years after the trial.
Adair said he favored the legislation because it doesn’t deny the accused any appeal rights; it just expedites the process for those appeals to move through the system more effectively.
He said it worked for both parties by giving the victims access to swifter justice and not forcing them to relive the incident through decades of appeals, but also improved the situation for anyone wrongfully convicted to get their cases overturned quickly, rather than waiting for decades to receive justice.
Adair was joined by Denise Gurganus of Cordova, whose sister was murdered 26 years ago. The man convicted of her murder, Greg Hunt, has spent 24 years on death row at Holman Prison since his sentencing.
He is still in the second phase of the appeals process and there in no anticipated end to his appeals.
Gurganus said in the 26 years since her sister, Karen Lane, died brutally, she has lost her mother, seen her children grow up, get married and have children of their own without her sister to share in those memories, while her killer remains alive and drags the family through new appeals every few years.
“The appeals process just goes and goes and goes,” Gurganus said after the hearing. “My dad would really love to see justice done before he leaves this earth. My mother tried to hang on to see justice done, but wasn’t able to do that.”
Walker County Senator Greg Reed is on the Senate Judiciary Committee and had kind words for Gurganus and her sister during the hearing.
Gurganus said she hopes area and state residents will support the measure and call or write their representatives and senators to encourage them to vote in favor of the change.
She said the day had been tough, emotional and draining but she was glad she had the opportunity to speak for her sister.
“I had to do it for her, she would have done it for me,” Gurganus said.
In addition to Reed, the Senate Judiciary Committee consists of Cam Ward, Jerry Fielding, Linda Coleman, Vivian Davis Figures, Marc Keahey, Arthur Orr, Rodger Smitherman, Bryan Taylor, Tom Whatley and Phil Williams.
The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is made up of Paul DeMarco, Howard Sanderford, Thad McClammy, Paul Beckman, Mike Ball, Allen Farley, Greg Burdine, Chris England, Juandalynn Givan, Todd Greeson, Wayne Johnson, Mike Jones, John Robinson, David Standridge and Allen Treadaway.
Defense attorneys, anti-death penalty advocates and others also testified, although none were from Walker County.
If the bill passes the judiciary committee, it will need to pass the House of Representatives and the Senate before it can be signed into law.
Gov. Robert Bentley has already expressed his support for the measure.