MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal judge has ruled that an Alabama prison inmate will be allowed to pursue her lawsuit against the state.
U.S. Chief District Judge Keith Watkins on Monday declined to dismiss the lawsuit by Judith Ann Neelley, an inmate at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.
Neelley maintains that a 2003 state statute unconstitutionally denied her the chance for parole.
Neelley was convicted of killing 13-year-old Lisa Ann Millican, who was abducted from a shopping center in Rome, Georgia, in 1982, The Montgomery Advertiser reported.
In 1999, then-Alabama Gov. Fob James commuted Neelley’s sentence to life, which would have made her eligible for parole.
However, the Alabama Legislature passed a law in 2003 — retroactive to 1998 — that made any commutations of death sentences automatically life without parole.
State officials said the law was meant intended to target Neelley, but the judge disagreed.
“Although the Act does not mention Plaintiff by name, the facts in Plaintiff’s amended complaint plausibly support her allegation that she was targeted by the Legislature’s amendment... not only because the legislators sponsoring the bill allegedly vocalized their intent to “fix” Governor James’s supposed error, but also because Plaintiff is the only person to receive a commuted sentence since 1962, and because the Legislature suspiciously made the Act retroactive to four months prior to the January 1999 commutation,” Watkins wrote.
A request for comment from the Alabama attorney general’s office was not immediately returned Wednesday, the Montgomery newspaper reported.
Even with this week’s ruling, Neelley’s chances of getting out of prison “are probably going to be difficult,” her attorney, Julian McPhillips, said Wednesday.
“It might entitle her to go before the Board of Pardons and Paroles, but she’ll probably be opposed by various people,” McPhillips said, adding “she’s struck a good blow for civil liberties and civil rights, even though it may not benefit her in the long run.”