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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Alabama Death Row |Inmate Denied Appeal

(CN) — The U.S. Supreme Court denied an Alabama death row inmate's appeal challenging his conviction for the 1987 shooting death of a convenience store clerk.

William "Billy" Kuenzel, formerly of Goodwater, Ala., was convicted in 1988 for the capital murder of Linda Offord, a store clerk in Sylacauga, Ala. The shooting occurred during the commission of a robbery.

The Supreme Court denied Kuenzel's petition for writ of certiorari on Monday without comment.

Kuenzel's petition asked the justices to consider whether Alabama's rules of procedure violated his due process rights, arguing they had placed him in an "unconstitutional Catch-22."

Kuenzel delayed filing a state petition, due to ongoing federal proceedings in the same matter. His petition was subsequently dismissed as untimely.

"The Alabama courts violated Kuenzel's rights under the Due Process Clause by failing to allow him to proceed with his second state habeas petition in the face of directly contradictory, and therefore unconstitutional, rules of state procedure," the certiorari petition claimed.

Kuenzel filed his state petition in September 2013, claiming that newly-discovered evidence showed him to be innocent of the crime. Its dismissal was affirmed July 2015 by the state's criminal appellate court, which noted that it was filed three years after the discovery of the new evidence and "long after the six-month limitation period."

On April 1, 2016, the Alabama Supreme Court denied his subsequent petition for review without opinion. Then-Chief Justice Roy Moore wrote an 11-page dissent, however, saying that the filing deadline could be disregarded under "extraordinary circumstances."

"Because of the irreversibility of the death penalty," Moore wrote, "I believe some leeway may be warranted in this case."

Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III filed an amicus curiae brief in September, saying "critical evidence" had been withheld that would have "cast serious doubt on Kuenzel's guilt."

Kuenzel was convicted largely on the testimony of his co-defendant and roommate at the time, Harvey Venn.

According to Meese, Venn's testimony alone was not sufficient to convict Kuenzel under the state's accomplice corroboration rule, which was "adopted to guard against convicting the innocent based on self-serving accomplice testimony."

Exculpatory statements made by the corroborating witness, as well as Venn himself, however, were withheld by the prosecutors, Meese argued.

Citing the Brady rule, Meese wrote, "If this withheld Brady material had been disclosed at the time of trial, Kuenzel could not have been convicted."

Meese further argued that the state's procedural rules had prevented Kuenzel "from litigating the merits of his Brady claim, despite his likely innocence."

Over the life of the case, Kuenzel's innocence has been touted by a varied group of supporters, including "Law and Order" actor Sam Waterston, who appeared at a Birmingham press conference last year to call for a new trial.

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