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House passes bill to amend ‘good time’ prison law

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives voted 99-1 Thursday to approve the Sergeant Nick Risner Act as the late police officer’s wife looked on.

The bill would change the state’s “good time” early release law for state prisoners so that it won’t apply to those convicted in killings. 

Risner was killed in the line of duty on Oct. 2, 2021. The Sheffield police officer was attempting to arrest Brian Lansing Martin after Martin shot someone from a stolen vehicle. Risner and several other police officers engaged in a shootout with Martin, when he then allegedly shot Risner and one other officer and missed a third.

The other officer survived, but Risner died the next day after being airlifted to Huntsville Hospital.

Martin had previously been sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2013 under the charge of manslaughter after killing his father. He was released three years later on “good time.” 

Good time reductions allow prisoners to earn time off their sentence with time that they serve with good behavior. 

Currently, prisoners who have been convicted of Class A felony, convicted of a sex offense involving a minor, or sentenced to more than 15 years or death are not eligible for good time.

House Bill 143 would add that people convicted of killing someone aren’t eligible for good time either, whether that be under a murder, manslaughter, or any other charge.

“The reason I’m bringing this bill is so hopefully another family won’t have to go through this,” Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Green Hill, the bill’s sponsor, said.

Pettus said that the bill was a personal one for him. His son is a Muscle Shoals fireman and was a friend of Risner. The younger Pettus responded to the scene when Risner was shot.

Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, said that as a former prosecutor, he’s glad that attorneys across Alabama will be able to confidently tell families that their loved one’s killer will serve their full sentence.

Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery voted against the bill. She argued that it strips hope from current prisoners who are working toward release on good time, since it would apply to all new and current offenders if signed into law.

Pettus pointed out that the bill makes no changes to current parole rules, so inmates could still be eligible for parole.

Several similar pieces of legislation were filed in Risner’s name, but House Bill 143 will be the sole one moving forward, as it encompasses the wishes of the other bills’ sponsors as well.

Attorney General Steve Marshall spoke out against Alabama’s good time laws after Risner’s death.

“Mrs. Risner, you have our respect and our prayers,” Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon said to Brandy Risner after the House vote.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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