Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nightrider and Lady Sundown: The Bonnie and Clyde of Georgia

The Trial

Judge Randall Cole
Judge Randall Cole
Judge Randall Cole was to preside over the proceedings.   Alabama had a three-count indictment against Judith: murder, abduction with the intent to harm, and abduction with the intent to terrorize.  Frasier indicates that Judiths first legal maneuver was to attempt to be considered under the Youthful Offender Act.  That way she could be tried as a juvenile offender rather than an adult, which if convicted, would carry only a $1000 fine and a three-year prison sentence.  Her request was denied.  Her attorney then put Plan B into action: an insanity defense based on battered woman syndrome.

In the meantime, Judith gave birth to another child in January 1983.   All three of her children had been born while she was under arrest for crimes.  She also went through psychiatric examinations to attempt to support her insanity plea.  Yet she was found to be oriented and cooperative, i.e., competent to stand trial.  She showed no sign of being delusional or having hallucinations.  She was intelligent and free of obvious organic impairment, and showed a good memory.  While there was some sign of depression, there was no reason to believe she was out of touch with reality or had been unable to conform her actions to the requirements of the law.

DeKalb County Courthouse
DeKalb County Courthouse
 

The trial in the DeKalb County Courthouse at Fort Payne, Alabama, began two months later in March.   French attempted to have her confession thrown out, but the judge ruled that it would remain as evidence.  Nevertheless, he put all of his effort into proving that Alvin had controlled Judith and whatever she had done had not been her fault.  Shed had no choice.  Alvin beat her continually.

Judith Neelley with Robert French
Judith Neelley with Robert French
 

French brought in Alvins first wife to describe her years of alleged abuse at Alvins hands, and she claimed to have many scars from those days.   That set the stage for Judith to take the stand, and Frasier indicates that she was grilled for three days in front of the jury (Cook says four). 

Judith Neelley on witness stand
Judith Neelley on witness stand
She went into extravagant detail about being a victim and being deathly afraid of her husband, Alvin.    She wanted to impress the jury that she could not help what she had done.  If she hadnt, Alvin would have killed her.  Everything from assault to murder had been done completely under his direction.  She had more or less been a mindless accomplice, unable to think or act for herself.  She had been subjected to vigorous abuse and constant demands for sex.  She had photographs that allegedly documented it all, and said that Alvin had ordered her to kidnap girls for him to rape.  She was, her attorney would say in his closing argument, like the bride of Frankenstein, an extension of Alvin, guided entirely by his will.  He was a Svengali.  Judith had actually begged him to let Lisa Millican go, but he had refused.  Judith had given the girl injections in the hope that it would end her pain quickly.  It had been an act of compassion.

DA Richard Igou
DA Richard Igou
John Hancocks testimony very nearly assisted her, because he had to admit that Alvinseemed to have been directing Judith right before she shot him, but DA Richard Igou managed to get him to say that she had clearly been acting on her own.  Igou also kept Lisa, the victim, foremost in the jurys mind so they would not mistake who was on trial.  Most of what Judith had said contradicted the letters she had written to Alvin, so Igou considered her entire performance on the stand an act.  He was determined that this was a play that would end badlyfor her.  He had no doubt that her rendition of shooting both womenwithout Alvins directionwould present clear images for the jury.

During rebuttal, he called psychiatrist Alexander Salillas, who said that Judith had known the difference between right and wrong at the time of the offense and that she had consciously decided to commit murder.   French attempted to derail him by asking about a psychiatric syndrome called coercive persuasion, and then tried to get him to admit that Judith had been subjected to it via isolation, brutality, and control.  In other words, he hoped the psychiatrist would stipulate that Judith Neelley had been brainwashed. Salillas responded that Judith, and other battered women, still had choice.  French attempted to undermine this with one example after another, but the psychiatrist remained firm.  And he was the final witness.  Both sides closed and the judge gave his instructions to the jury.

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