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Dual prosecutions in Alabama: Fair or court overkill?

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Overlapping state and federal prosecutions for a crime frustrate defense attorneys, while giving prosecutors a shot at stiffer penalties.

The dual prosecution cases are allowed because case law has provided that the charges are for separate crimes in separate jurisdictions.

“There is nothing that prohibits both state and federal prosecutions,” said Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber. “It’s not double jeopardy. It’s dual sovereign.”

But two-fold prosecutions also can be costly to taxpayers for multiple trials, experts said.

“It often is overkill,” said defense attorney Glennon Threatt. “It creates added pressure on a defendant to plead guilty. It’s like getting struck by lightning twice.”

A month after William Merriweather Jr. was charged in state court in the May 14 shooting deaths of two Wachovia Bank employees, a federal grand jury lodged more charges against him.

In another example, Dedrick Griham was charged first in state court with state crimes of robbery, kidnapping and rape in the May 31, 2006, abduction of a Birmingham lawyer. Federal charges came next in the crime.

Griham is now serving life plus 84 years without parole for federal convictions of carjacking, having a gun during a violent crime and possessing a gun while being a convicted felon.

Barber said Griham’s prosecution in federal court can now spare the victim from having to testify at trial in state court, where Griham is charged with rape and sodomy.

If Griham’s conviction is upheld at the appeals level, Barber said the state does not plan to pursue charges because Griham has a life sentence. In federal court, life means life.

In other high-profile cases:

  • Derrol Shaw received a federal sentence of 37 years after pleading guilty in federal court in January to carjacking and gun charges from two crimes in May 2006. Shaw also awaits first-degree robbery charges resulting from carjackings from February to May 2006, including two of the cases he admitted to in federal court. Shaw is now charged with capital murder in the deaths of 91-year-old church deacon Walter Hill and the slayings of John Martin, 84; his wife, Evelyn Martin, 82; and their grandson, Ryan Evans, 19.

  • Keundre Johnson and Mackese Walker Speight face state charges of attempted murder, robbery and kidnapping after being prosecuted in federal court for a series of carjackings, one in which a Homewood woman was shot. Johnson received a 71-year federal prison sentence while Speight was ordered to serve 68 years after pleading guilty to carjacking, conspiracy and using a firearm.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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