“I’ve represented some evil ones,” Alabama attorney Bob French told forensic science students at the Floyd County Schools College and Career Academy, where he spoke about his latest book and offered some advice to future investigators.
French was the defense attorney for convicted killer Judith Ann Neelley, who, along with her husband, Alvin Neelley, murdered 13-year-old Lisa Ann Millican in 1982. The Neelleys abducted the teenager from Riverbend Mall in Rome and took her to Alabama, where she was sexually assaulted during her captivity.
Judith Neelley injected Millican with liquid drain cleaner, which failed to kill her, and then shot her in the back and shoved her into Little River Canyon, outside Fort Payne, Alabama. She was granted a chance for parole in January when the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled she can go forward with a lawsuit challenging an Alabama law enacted in 2003 aimed at retroactively preventing her parole, according to a report by AL.com.
“I tried everything in the world to avoid it,” French, an 84-year-old who still practices law, said of having to defend her at trial. “I never wanted to meet Judith Ann Neelley. I just wanted out of it. I could not find any way to cope with this.”
French’s book, “Beaten, Battered and Damned: The Drano Murder Trial,” was compiled from his 1,645 pages of notes, along with court transcripts, and is dedicated to “criminal defense lawyers that have to represent shockingly evil clients.” He said it took him 31 years to muster enough courage to write on the topic.
“It was a very painful experience,” he said.
He read excerpts of the book to students and offered insights into that period of his life. The Neelley case was his 17th concerning murder or rape without fees or expenses, he said. Going into the trial, French said “we were flying blind.” He told students to “just look at the reasonable things.”
“You’ve got to learn to love the unlovable,” French said, adding that for Judith Neelley this meant appreciating her youth and what she had gone through as a child being raised in a troubled home.
These were words that changed his life when he relayed them to a reporter during the case, he said, as the “conspiracy” of him being the father of her one of her children was spawned.
He hated her and she hated him, French said. Despite his reservations about her, he said, “You can’t plead someone guilty to go to the electric chair.” He had argued for a life sentence and the jury recommended life without parole, but the judge imposed a death sentence, which was commuted by Alabama Gov. Fob James on Jan. 15, 1999.