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Morgan convicts among those to be released with ankle monitors under new law

By Staff Reports

Eleven inmates convicted in Morgan County, including one for murder, are among the 369 scheduled for early release under a 2021 law requiring inmates to spend the final few months of their prison sentence on supervised release, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections and Morgan County Sheriff’s Office.

Two of those eligible for early release were convicted in Limestone County and one in Lawrence County.

About 80 of the inmates statewide were released with ankle monitors Tuesday.

The law requires inmates to be released to the supervision of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons somewhere between three and 12 months before their sentences end. The inmates would have been freed from prison anyway in the upcoming months when their sentences end, but would not have had ankle monitors.

Approximately 400 inmates are eligible to be released under the law, Cam Ward, executive director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, said Monday. The Alabama Department of Corrections said in a news release that there will be a rolling release of the remaining eligible inmates as required victim notifications are done.

All of the inmates from Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties were scheduled to be released sometime this year even absent the early release law.

Angela Gay Dearman, 55, convicted of murder in 2006, is among those eligible for early release under the 2021 law. Her scheduled release date prior to passage of the law was Sept. 1 of this year. Dearman pleaded guilty to the shooting death of Wilburn King, her son’s karate instructor.

Others eligible for the early release were convicted in Morgan County of various drug crimes, breaking and entering vehicles, burglary, assault, possession of forged documents and other offenses. One person, 73-year-old Larry Lee Smith, was convicted in 2021 of violation of a law prohibiting a registered sex offender from residing within 2,000 feet of a child care facility. Without the early release law, he was scheduled to be released on Aug. 29 of this year.

The 2021 law, which was approved with broad support, was touted by proponents as a public safety measure designed to make sure inmates are monitored when they leave prison, instead of walking out the door unsupervised when their sentence concludes.

But the measure has drawn criticism from the state attorney general and some district attorneys because it allows inmates, including people convicted of violent crimes such as murder and manslaughter, to leave prison several months early. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall also argued that required victim notifications had not been done.

Republican Rep. Jim Hill, a former circuit judge who sponsored the 2021 legislation, said he believes the measure enhances public safety because inmates will be followed for a period of time, instead of being released from prison unsupervised when their sentences end.

“I see this as an opportunity to follow individuals who have been in prison for a period of time before we completely release them to no supervision whatsoever,” Hill said.

Alabama lawmakers first approved the supervised release requirement in 2015. The 2021 legislation made the requirement retroactive. Ward said this is expected to be the only large-scale release as the 2021 law takes effect.

Inmates convicted of sex crimes involving children are not eligible for early release.

Marshall, who spoke against the legislation in 2021, on Monday filed a lawsuit against Corrections Commissioner John Hamm seeking a restraining order to block the release of the inmates until crime victims are notified.

Marshall’s office argued in a court filing that at least 50 of the 412 inmates set to be released are serving time for murder or manslaughter and that fewer than 20 victims had been notified as of Friday. In a Monday letter to Marshall, Hamm said the prison system will not release any inmate “until we have ensured compliance with the Act’s victim notice requirement.”

Montgomery Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool dismissed the lawsuit based on those assurances.

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