Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nightrider and Lady Sundown: The Bonnie and Clyde of Georgia


Judith appealed to get a new trial, but in March 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal.   Less then two years later, they let her death sentence stand.  She converted to Christianity and developed a prodigious correspondence, writing, says Frasier, between 30 and 60 letters a week. 

She apparently developed a relationship with another woman, who on May 21, 1994 was found dead in her home.   She had shot herself, leaving photographs and a cassette recording of their fatal plan.  Neelley was found in her cell, her wrists slashed with a disposable razor, but she survived.

Then there was more news.

Gov. Fob James of Alabama
Gov. Fob James of Alabama
Alabama Governor Fob James decided that Judith Neelley did not deserve to die for her crimes.   Before he left office, he signed an order to commute her sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  This decision caused an outcry, so in an interview for the Post at, he defended his decision.  He said that he had given it long consideration and went through many documents, including letters pleading with him to reconsider Judiths case.  The jury, he noted, had given her life.  It was the judge in her case that had ruled for the death sentence.  James said that since the jury, who had seen all the evidence, had decided on leniency, and they had been chosen as Judiths peers, their recommendation was the proper one to follow.

Jamess act shocked former DA Richard Igou, who went on the record as saying, He did this without speaking to the DAs office or asking our opinion.   It is clear he did not want us to be involved in his decision.  He found it ironic that James had come to his conclusion about the Neelley case on the same day on which they DAs office had requested that her execution date be set. 

Then after the sentence was commuted, with the expectation that it could be the final word, Alabamas attorney general ruled that the law allowed the governor to commute the sentence.  

Judge Gene Reese
Judge Gene Reese
Neelleys attorney clamed that with time served she was eligible for parole immediately, but as reported in the Weekly Post, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Gene Reese ruled in July 2002 that Neelley may not be considered for release until January 2014, fifteen years after her sentence was commuted.   Even if she were paroled, she could be extradited to Georgia to face her life sentence there for the rape-murder of Janice Chatman. 

Judith Neelley
Judith Neelley
Currently, she is the second-longest serving female death row inmate in the country, according to a newsletter from Abolish, which publishes death penalty items from every state.  Given the twist and turns in this case to date, it would not be surprising to hear from Ms. Neelley again.

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