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Death sentence reinstated for Billy Joe Magwood
Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:13am (XFF: unknown)

Death sentence reinstated for Coffee County sheriff killer

By Greg Phillips

Published: January 23, 2009

An Elba man who murdered the Coffee County sheriff in 1979 is back on death row after a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

The decision overturns one made in 2007 by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson that vacated the death sentence of Billy Joe Magwood, who was convicted of the 1979 murder of Coffee County Sheriff Neil Grantham and sentenced to death in 1981.

Magwood spent the next 26 years on death row, going through a series of appeals that finally resulted in Thompson’s decision, which would have allowed Magwood’s attorneys a chance to reduce his sentence to life without parole.

On Friday, the court of appeals ruled in favor of Alabama Attorney General Troy King, Alabama Department of Corrections Warden Grant Cilliver and Commissioner Richard F. Allen in their challenge of the 2007 decision.

“We reverse the district court’s grant of relief on Magwood’s fair-warning claim and ineffective assistance of counsel on Magwood’s fair-warning claim,” the court’s opinion report said. “We render judgment in favor of the State.”

King was a 10-year-old Elba resident when Magwood shot and killed Grantham on March 1, 1979.

“That in that time an elementary school boy has gone to high school, college, law school and since become the attorney general of this state is an affront to justice,” he told the Dothan Eagle in May 2007, shortly after Thompson’s ruling.

On Friday, King said he was happy with the court’s decision, but isn’t ready to let the case rest yet.

“Our gratification with this ruling is tempered by the knowledge that on many occasions before today, we have believed that justice was soon to be served, only to be faced with delays based on technicalities,” King said. “Sheriff Grantham’s family and I look forward to seeing this appeal exhausted and a death sentence set.”

For King and the family, the wait may be far from over. According to the attorney general’s office, Magwood can still request a rehearing, and the ruling could still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There is a 30-day period during which he can request a rehearing,” said Joy Patterson, a media spokesperson for King.

Magwood, a former Coffee County Jail inmate, shot Grantham outside the jail, according to court records. He had a list of other prominent Elba figures he planned to shoot as well.

King said the longer Magwood stays on death row, the more grief Grantham’s family must face.

“Billy Joe Magwood’s case is a vivid reminder of the trauma that the criminal justice system often inflicts on families in Alabama,” King said.

    • Magwood v. Culliver, No. 0712208Britta, Sun Jan 25 9:17am
      CRIMINAL LAW & PROCEDURE Magwood v. Culliver, No. 0712208 Partial denial of petitioner-death row inmate's habeas corpus petition is affirmed in part and reversed in part where: 1) petitioner's... more
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