High Court’s Latest Death Penalty Case: A Question Of Timing


Billy Joe Magwood should be executed in Alabama because his lawyers raised a fundamental issue too late, the state’s solicitor general, Corey Maze, argued to the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, says the New York Times. Magwood, shot and killed an Alabama sheriff in 1979. At the time, Alabama law allowed defendants to be sentenced to death only if they had committed murders in connection with at least one of several listed “aggravating circumstances.”

Though Magwood's crime did not fit any of those circumstances, he was sentenced to death in 1981. Over the years, his attorneys challenged his sentence on various grounds, but it was not until 1997 that they raised the question of whether his was a capital crime under Alabama law in the first place. Jeffrey Fisher, one of his lawyers, said his client was challenging his 1986 resentencing for the first time. “You can't waive something by failing to raise it in a different case,” he said. “This is an entirely different case.”

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