- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama legislators are showing support for expanding Alabama’s death penalty law to cover more crimes and to expedite executions by shortening appeals.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees voted Wednesday to approve bills pushed by state Attorney General Luther Strange and the Alabama District Attorneys Association.

One bill would expand Alabama’s death penalty law to cover several additional crimes, including killing someone on a school campus or in a child-care center. It would also cover killing a family member of a law enforcement officer or judge for intimidation or retaliation.

Another bill calls for the two rounds of appeals in death penalty cases to run simultaneously rather than consecutively. Currently, a defendant convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death has a traditional appeal that goes all the way through state and federal courts. Then the defendant gets a second round of appeal to challenge other issues, such as whether he had adequate legal defense in his trial. Under the attorney general’s legislation, both avenues of appeal would remain, but they would go on simultaneously. The bill would apply only to future death penalty cases.

Proponents said the average case in Alabama takes 16 years from conviction to execution, and that’s not fair to the victims’ families.

At a public hearing Tuesday, Denise Gurganas of Cordova recounted how her sister, Karen Lane, was killed in 1988. She said the convicted defendant is still on death row pursuing his second round of appeals, while the family keeps dealing with the murder year after year because of the lengthy appeals.

“It’s been 26 long years. There’s been no reason for this to go on as long as it has,” Gurganus told legislators.

Opponents say time is sometimes needed to uncover problems in death penalty prosecutions and the state shouldn’t rush to execute someone. “Sometimes this time has saved people,” Democratic Rep. John England Jr. of Tuscaloosa said.

The House version of the bills now go to the House, and the Senate versions now go to the Senate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, said the bills could come up for a vote in the House in a couple of weeks.

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