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On death row for 30 years, convicted Alabama cop-killer wins another appeal

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that convicted cop-killer Billy Joe Magwood, on death row since 1981, was not properly charged under Alabama statutes to qualify for capital punishment.

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A convicted cop-killer on Alabama’s death row has again won an appeal to have his death sentence overturned.

A federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled on Monday that Billy Joe Magwood, who has been on death row since 1981, was not properly charged under Alabama statutes to qualify for capital punishment.

At one point in the 1980s, Mr. Magwood was within eight days of his scheduled execution.

“Based on a clear reading of Alabama law, we conclude that Magwood was not eligible for the death penalty,” the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals said.

The three-judge panel said Magwood was entitled to receive a new, non-capital sentence because his death sentence violated the fair-warning requirement of the Constitution’s due process clause.

Magwood is one of 198 inmates on Alabama’s death row. He’s been there more than 30 years, longer than all but two other death-row inmates.

The appeals court ruling follows a June 2010, 5-to-4 decision by the US Supreme Court, remanding the Magwood case to the lower courts so he could be resentenced. State prosecutors objected, once again, and appealed to the 11th Circuit.

It was that appeal that the 11th Circuit rejected on Monday.

There is no dispute over whether Magwood murdered Coffee County Sheriff C. F. “Neil” Grantham in 1979. Magwood had earlier served time in the Coffee County Jail and had a history of mental illness. The prisoner decided that Sheriff Grantham had wrongly jailed him and that he would exact revenge.

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