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Neelley v. Walker

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

March 30, 2018

CLIFFORD WALKER, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Judith A. Neelley was originally sentenced to death, but Alabama Governor Fob James commuted her sentence to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. A few years later, the Alabama Legislature made a class of its inmates ineligible for parole. That class consists of exactly one inmate.

         Ms. Neelley.

         According to Ms. Neelley, that change in Alabama law violated both the ban on bills of attainder and the ban on ex post facto laws in Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution. She brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Clifford Walker, Lyn Head, and Terry G. Davis in their official capacities as members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. Her claims are now before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. # 80, 81) based on stipulated facts (Doc. # 77, at 2-11). Those motions have been fully briefed. (Docs. # 81, 84, 85, 88, 89.)

         The Alabama law at issue here retroactively enhanced the punishment of only Ms. Neelley, so it is both an unconstitutional bill of attainder and an unconstitutional ex post facto law. Therefore, Ms. Neelley's motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 80) is due to be granted, and Defendants' second motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 81) is due to be denied.


         Subject-matter jurisdiction is exercised pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(3). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.


         To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The court views the evidence, and all reasonable inferences drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).

         “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This responsibility includes identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. Alternatively, a movant who does not have a trial burden of production can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party “cannot produce admissible evidence to support” a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B).

         If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish - with evidence beyond the pleadings - that a genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor.” Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

         “Cross-motions for summary judgment will not, in themselves, warrant the court in granting summary judgment unless one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not genuinely disputed.” Bricklayers, Masons & Plasterers Int'l Union of Am., Local Union No. 15 v. Stuart Plastering Co., 512 F.2d 1017, 1023 (5th Cir. 1975).[1] “Nonetheless, cross-motions may be probative of the non-existence of a factual dispute when, as here, they demonstrate a basic agreement concerning what legal theories and material facts are dispositive.” Id. “‘[W]hen both parties proceed on the same legal theor[ies] and rely on the same material facts[, ] the court is signaled that the case is ripe for summary judgment.” Shook v. United States, 713 F.2d 662, 665 (11th Cir. 1983). But “before the court can consider the legal issues raised by the parties on cross-motions for summary judgment, it must have no doubt as to the relevant facts that are beyond dispute.” Griffis v. Delta Family-Care Disability, 723 F.2d 822, 824 (11th Cir. 1984).


         The parties have stipulated to all of the material facts in this case. (Doc. # 77, at 2-11.)

         Ms. Neelley was convicted of capital murder in 1983 for murdering Lisa Ann Millican. The trial judge described Ms. Neelley's crime in great detail in his sentencing order:

The body of Lisa Ann Millican, age 13, was found in a gorge known as Little River Canyon near Fort Payne on September 29, 1982. Lisa was a resident of the Ethel Harpst Home, a Methodist home for neglected children located in Cedartown, Georgia.
Lisa and five other girls from the home were taken by a house parent on an outing to Riverbend Mall in Rome, Georgia on September 25, 1982. While at the mall, Lisa became separated from the others. During this separation, she was abducted by [Ms. Neelley], who asked Lisa to go “riding around.” Lisa hesitated at first, but then agreed. The events which followed the abduction led to the death of Lisa when [Ms. Neelley] shot her in the back on September 28, 1982, and threw her body into the canyon.
The abduction of Lisa Ann Millican was part of a bizarre scheme whereby [Ms. Neelley] attempted to lure girls and young women into the car with her for the ultimate purpose of making them available to her husband, Alvin Neelley, for sex with him. For several days immediately prior to Lisa's abduction, [Ms. Neelley] and Alvin drove up and down Rome streets in separate automobiles looking for girls who would be suitable. When Alvin would see one who appealed to him, he would communicate with [Ms. Neelley] by C-B radio, and [Ms. Neelley] would invite the girl to go riding around with her. Numerous girls refused [Ms. Neelley's] invitation; her first successful pick-up was Lisa Ann Millican.
[Ms. Neelley] took Lisa to a motel in Franklin, Georgia where she tried to persuade Lisa to submit to sex with Alvin, but Lisa resisted. Finally, Alvin told Lisa that if she did not submit to sex, [Ms. Neelley] would kill her. Following this threat, Alvin engaged in sex with Lisa, and later that night, Lisa was handcuffed to the bed to prevent her escape.
The next day, [Ms. Neelley] and Alvin, traveling in two cars, took Lisa with them to Cleveland, Tennessee where they picked up their two-year-old twins who were being cared for by Alvin's mother. Later that day, they traveled to Scottsboro, Alabama where they rented a motel room. Shortly after their arrival at the motel, [Ms. Neelley] hit Lisa in the head several times with a slapjack in an attempt to render her unconscious, but she was unsuccessful in achieving that result. Alvin then had sex with Lisa, and afterward Lisa slept overnight on the floor, unclothed, and handcuffed to the bed.
The following day, Alvin had sex with Lisa twice more despite her cries and pleas that he stop. [Ms. Neelley] was present during these sexual encounters and at one point during the day, she handcuffed Lisa to the plumbing in the bathroom and interrogated her about a man she had appeared to know at a dairy bar near the motel.
The next morning, Lisa was taken to Little River Canyon by [Ms. Neelley] where [Ms. Neelley] instructed Lisa to lie face down and place her hands around a tree. [Ms. Neelley] then handcuffed Lisa's hands. She explained to Lisa that she was going to give her a shot that would make her fall asleep and that when she waked up, Lisa would be free to go. Using a needle and syringe, [Ms. Neelley] injected Lisa in the neck with liquid drain cleaner. When Lisa did not die in five minutes, [Ms. Neelley] injected her again in the neck. She injected Lisa four additional times, twice in the arms and twice in the buttocks, waiting about five minutes after each injection for Lisa to die. Twice during the infliction of these injections, Lisa requested to get up and “use the bathroom” in the woods. She was allowed to do so, and each time she returned and resumed her position on the ground with her hands around the tree.
Following the last injection, [Ms. Neelley] instructed Lisa to walk around for awhile to hasten the work of the poison in her body. When it finally appeared that Lisa was not going to die from the drain cleaner, [Ms. Neelley] marched Lisa to the rim of the canyon to shoot her in the back in a manner that would cause her body to fall into the canyon. Lisa begged to go back to the Harpst Home and promised not to tell what had happened. [Ms. Neelley] told Lisa to be quiet and then shot her in the back. Lisa fell backward toward [Ms. Neelley] instead of falling into the canyon. [Ms. Neelley] picked up the body and, using her knee, propelled it into the canyon.
During [Ms. Neelley's] trial testimony, she testified that Alvin was present at the canyon directing her every action. However, in an out-of-court statement made shortly after her arrest, [Ms. Neelley] stated that Alvin was not present at the canyon.
Five days after the death of Lisa Ann Millican, [Ms. Neelley] picked up a young woman named Janice Chapman and her common-law husband, John Hancock, from a street in Rome. Later that night, [Ms. Neelley] shot John Hancock in the back and left him for dead. He survived, however, and was present at the trial to testify to the incident.
[Ms. Neelley] and Alvin took Janice Chapman to a motel in Rome where Alvin engaged in sex with Janice. The next day, [Ms. Neelley] killed Janice Chapman, shooting her once in the back and twice in the chest. During [Ms. Neelley's] trial testimony, she testified that Alvin was present during the shooting of John Hancock and Janice Chapman and that he directed her to shoot them; however, in her out-of-court statement given shortly after her arrest, she stated that Alvin was present when she shot John Hancock but that he was not present when she killed Janice Chapman.
On October 9, 1982, the day before [Ms. Neelley's] arrest, she picked up another young woman in Nashville, Tennessee who was present with [Ms. Neelley] and Alvin in a motel room in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on October 10, 1982 when [Ms. Neelley] was arrested on a bad check charge. Later, this woman was released by Alvin unharmed.
Alvin was arrested in Murfreesboro on October 13, 1982, also on a bad check charge. While [Ms. Neelley] and Alvin were in custody on the bad check charges, additional charges were placed against them arising from the murders of Lisa Ann Millican and Janice Chapman, and the shooting of John Hancock.

Neelley v. State, 494 So.2d 669 app. III 690-91 (Ala.Crim.App.1985) (including the trial judge's sentencing order in an appendix).

         Although the jury recommended (by a margin of ten to two) that she be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, the trial judge sentenced Ms. Neelley to death. She exhausted all of her state and ...

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