State wins round in death penalty case

Published 8:36 am Saturday, January 24, 2009

ATLANTA — The state of Alabama has won a round in its pursuit to carry out the death sentence of a man convicted of murder in the death of a sheriff 30 years ago.

Billy Joe Magwood was convicted of gunning down Coffee County Sheriff Neil Grantham in the jail parking lot in Elba on March 1, 1979. He was sentenced to death June 2, 1981.

After an appeal, Magwood’s capital murder conviction was upheld but he was granted a new sentencing hearing. He was resentenced to death in 1986 and set about challenging that.

Magwood succeeded with a 1997 petition when a federal judge ruled in his favor on two technicalities, including not having an effective lawyer.

The state appealed, and a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the lower court’s ruling on Friday.

State Attorney General Troy King, who grew up in Elba, said he is pleased that Magwood is again facing a death sentence, but Magwood has other appeals remaining.

“Sheriff Grantham’s family and I look forward to seeing this appeal exhausted and a death sentence set,” King said.