Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nightrider and Lady Sundown: The Bonnie and Clyde of Georgia

Controversial Sentencing

The jury received the case on March 21, 1983, quite late in the afternoon.   No one expected them to be ready with a verdict by midmorning the next day, but they were.  They found Judith Ann Neelley guilty of the kidnap and murder of Lisa Millican.  Yet they recommended that she be sentenced to life in prison rather than death. (Furio says they sentenced her to death.)

However, the sentence was up to Judge Cole, and he had written two opinions.  Ultimately, he decided that while Judith had been young, she was also brazen and cruel.  He thought the crime had been heinous and atrocious beyond that which is common to most capital cases, and sentenced her to death (Furio says to life, but her account is full of errors).  Judith listened to this and began to cry.  She was only eighteen years old.

Not wanting a second death sentence in another state, she pleaded guilty to the kidnap-murder of Janice Chatman in Tennessee and received a life sentence.  Then she got ten years for the shooting of John Hancock.  It was her deal with Tennessee that spurred Alvin to finalize his own plea deal.  He was afraid his wife might testify against him.

It was the consensus of those who listened to the various witnesses that Judith was the brains behind the most serious of the couples offenses.   It was she who had persuaded Alvin to participate with her in the brutal crimes, not the other way around. When they had lured Lisa Millican into their car and molested and killed her, it was Judith who injected her with liquid drain cleaner and who then shot her. She was also the person who shot John Hancock and left him for dead.  The question for a jury was whether she had done so because she herself was psychologically disturbed or whether she had been forcibly subordinated to Alvin in such a manner that she would do whatever he wanted, even when he was not around.  They had decided that she was aware of what she was doing and had not been under anyone elses power.  Apparently, they did.

Judith Neelley in jail
Judith Neelley in jail

Judith settled into the appeals process as an inmate at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.   She became the youngest woman to have been sentenced to death row.  In a 1983 prison interview, quoted by Frasier and Cook, she reportedly said, I pray for strength.  I dont ask God...for me not to be electrocuted.  I just ask that if Im going to be electrocuted, to give me strength to go through it.

Alvin Neelley
Alvin Neelley
Although Alvin had said that they were responsible for more murders, despite intensive investigations no evidence was ever found to link them to unsolved cases.  Nevertheless, Judith Neelley appears to have had a thirst for violence and power.  That she was young, slender, and blond gave her an advantage with those who would rather believe that the male was the instigator.  She was just a girl, after all, and several groups began to fight on her behalf.

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