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Shoals lawmakers bringing bills to change prison early release law

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A trio of bills toughening sentences for convicted criminals will be sponsored by three Shoals-area lawmakers in response to the killing of Sheffield Police Sgt. Nick Risner.

Risner was fatally shot while on duty in October, allegedly by Brian Lansing Martin. Martin was convicted of manslaughter for killing his father in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years in prison after taking a plea deal. He was released after three years and two months in prison under the state law that allows early release for inmates who behave well in prison.

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, has pre-filed for the upcoming session House Bill 45 to make those convicted of manslaughter ineligible for good time sentence deductions.

Had Martin served his 10 years, Risner would be alive today, Greer told Alabama Daily News.

Current law allows for a Class I prisoner — those considered the most trustworthy — can receive sentence deductions of 75 days for each 30 days actually served. Class II, III and IV prisoners receive lesser breaks on their sentences.

Good time reductions currently aren’t allowed to prisoners who have:

  • Been convicted of a Class A felony;
  • Sentenced to life in prison, a death sentence or a sentence of more than 15 years;
  • Convicted of a sex offense involving a minor.

Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Green Hill, is a co-sponsor on Greer’s bill, but also plans to file one of his own legislation.

“Mine will say if you’re convicted of any crime where a life is lost, you can’t get good time,” Pettus told Alabama Daily News. That would include negligent homicide.

“We need to do something,” Pettus said about his and Greer’s bill.

Risner and another officer were shot Oct. 1 after a chase that began when Martin allegedly fatally shot another man and pushed him out of his vehicle. 

Pettus’ son, Phillip Pettus II, is a fireman in Muscle Shoals and was friends with Risner. He was also one of the first responders on the scene of the shooting.

“For me, this is personal,” Rep. Pettus said.

And in the Senate, Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said he plans to sponsor a bill that would disallow good time release for anyone who accepts a plea deal and is sentenced for a lesser crime than they were originally charged.

“If you take a plea bargain, you should serve every day of your sentence,” Stutts told ADN. “If you plea bargain, you’ve already gotten your break.”

Pettus said he’s been in discussion with the state attorney general’s office about his bill, which is still in draft form.

Attorney General Steve Marshall was critical of the good time law following Risner’s death. A comment from Marshall’s office about these bills was not available.

Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Cam Ward said he’s heard from a few lawmakers asking about changing the good time law. He said he’s made suggestions and is supportive of some of the proposals he’s seen.

He also warns against getting rid of good time altogether.

“If you do that, you will see a violent upsurge inside the prisons like you’ve never seen,” Ward said. “If you’re not going to get out, what’s the incentive to be good?”

The legislative session starts Jan. 11. 

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