A backlog of murder cases in Mobile County is being steadily chipped away as the local courts are managing to host an average of two murder trials per week.
According to information provided by the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office, as of Tuesday, May 10, 29 cases involving capital murder, murder and manslaughter have been resolved since the beginning of the year, with prosecutors securing 15 guilty pleas and 10 jury convictions. Three were acquitted by a jury and one case was disposed of by mental evaluation.
The trials resulted in two life sentences, eight sentences ranging between 15 and 25 years, four suspended sentences and four split sentences. One individual was sentenced to time served for criminally negligent homicide. Seven individuals are still awaiting sentencing. The remaining three cases were all co-defendants on the same case and were acquitted.
The trials addressed two cases from 2016, six from 2017, six from 2018, 12 from 2019 and three from 2020. As of Tuesday, there were still roughly 260 open homicide cases active, according to records from the DA’s Office.
But even with the rate of trial activity, can prosecutors clear cases quicker than the current replacement rate of murders?
Since Jan. 1, there have been 28 homicide investigations launched in Mobile County, according to reports from the Mobile Police Department (MPD), the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and the Prichard Police Department. Some of those incidents involve multiple suspects. Reported shootings in Mobile city since the beginning of the year sit at 174.
As of last month, more than 120 individuals charged with murder were free on bond.
According to MPD’s 2021 annual report, violent crime spiked 18.1 percent in 2021 in the City of Mobile. The city also marked a record-high number of homicides with a total of 51.
In March, three retired judges were been appointed to preside over a special Mobile County court, including Judges Charlie Graddick, John Lockett and Roderick Stout. That special court is prioritizing trials for violent crime.
Mobile County Chief Assistant District Attorney Keith Blackwood said assistant DAs have been working tirelessly and that this was “far above” the rate of cases before March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown court proceedings.
The DA’s Office launched its 30th murder trial Tuesday morning, for Kwazi Thomas, 47, who is accused of murdering 57-year-old Gerard “Santana” Joyner on Donald Street in September 2017.
“Keep in mind this is while we are trying and prosecuting every other case too, some violent, some nonviolent. We’ve tried more total cases this year than we did in all of last year,” Blackwood said.
The majority of the trials this year have all been for violent crimes, according to Blackwood.
The local court system has been a matter of contention in Mobile County for the past two months as a whirlwind of finger-pointing ignited in late March over shootings near downtown.
City officials have blamed upticks of violence on a “broken” justice system for failing to process crimes fast enough and granting suspects bail.
Presiding Circuit Court Judge Michael Youngpeter told Lagniappe last month that in spite of disruptions from COVID-19, Mobile County held more jury trials and disposed of more felony indictments than any other circuit in the state. He said judges host trials as quickly as state prosecutors prepare them.
Mobile County DA Ashley Rich has blamed defense attorneys for continuing trials and COVID for delays in case preparation. She has pointed to forensic evidence backlogs at the state level which prevented prosecutors from binding cases over to a grand jury for indictment.
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