Capital murder: What that means when you’re charged in Alabama

It’s been a busy 2023 for serious crimes in Tuscaloosa County: Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 15, there have been five homicides. Of those, two resulted in capital murder charges.

On Jan. 8, 19-year-old cousins Mance McCall Jr. and Keondre McCall were charged with capital murder in the deaths of Justin Whitfield and Destin Holley, both 23. Whitfield and Holley were found dead in Fosters, shot to death and dumped on the side of two separate roads.

On Jan. 15, 20-year-old Michael Davis and now-former University of Alabama basketball player Darius Miles, 21, were charged with capital murder in the shooting death of 23-year-old mother Jamea Harris.

Capital murder is among the most serious criminal charges, said Tuscaloosa County District Attorney Hays Webb, but nothing can ever be done to bring those victims back.

“Every single one of these defendants, every single one of these people who are choosing to shoot up our community has parents at home,” Webb said. “How in the world don’t we expect parents to parent? Why in the world are children out in the middle of the night with guns shooting up places because they are bothered or upset?”

So, what are the requirements of a capital murder charge over, say, murder or homicide?

“It requires the intent that somebody dies and then there has to be some sort of a contemporaneous condition that would occur,” Webb said. “Say, a robbery in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, burglary first degree. It could also be that two or more people are killed. What we see a lot of times here is there is another condition which is that the killing, it has to be an intentional killing, occurs shooting into or from a vehicle.”

What happens after you’re arrested and charged? You get a bond hearing.

If you’re charged with capital murder in Alabama, you can expect no bond from jail until the case is settled, with few exceptions.

“Those hearings are intended to give the judge enough information to say what is an appropriate bond for this individual,” Webb said.

After the bond hearing comes a preliminary hearing. That usually happens three to four weeks after an arrest.

“It is a probable cause hearing where the judge makes a determination after hearing the evidence and then says either the case needs to be dismissed or it is forwarded to the grand jury,” Webb said.

Once that’s over, the court process is still far from over.

“Then we will have an arraignment,” Webb said. “And that is one of these things that defendants don’t even have to be there if they have filled certain paperwork out. For capital defendants, they will be there and either the judge or (the district attorney’s office) will read the defendant the charge they are faced with and what’s their bond. Then that really starts the circuit court process, where those cases will be resolved.”

Cases are commonly settled through plea agreements. If an agreement can’t be made, the defendant will be tried by jury.

In Alabama, those found guilty of capital murder face punishment that can include life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.

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