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Russell County District Attorney Kenneth Davis speaks at a news conference at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery on Monday. He was joined by some 30 members of the Alabama District Attorneys Association.
AP photo by Dave Martin
Russell County District Attorney Kenneth Davis speaks at a news conference at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery on Monday. He was joined by some 30 members of the Alabama District Attorneys Association.

State DA group asks King to apologize for remarks

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A death penalty dispute between two Republican prosecutors escalated Monday, with the Alabama District Attorneys Association questioning Attorney General Troy King's fitness for office and King saying the association should quit taking the side of killers.

At a news conference in Montgomery, the District Attorneys Association said King should apologize to Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens, a Republican like King. King recently removed Owens from a case and said Owens "shirked" his duties when he supported reducing the sentence of a young death row inmate.

"If he cannot recognize the error of his needless attack on the district attorney, perhaps he should consider his fitness for the position he now holds," the association said in a statement approved by 41 of Alabama's 42 district attorneys.

King fired back, saying he was following the wishes of the victims' families.

"If an apology is due, it is due to victims, not to those who take the side of convicted murderers," King said. "No matter what these district attorneys say, I will not be the second prosecutor to turn my back on these victims and justice."

On Wednesday, King stripped from Owens the capital murder case of LaSamuel Gamble, who was convicted along with Marcus Presley of killing two people during a pawn shop robbery more than 11 years ago. Owens prosecuted both and secured death sentences.

But Presley, the gunman, had his death sentence reduced to life in prison without parole because he was 16 at the time and, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court barred capital punishment for anyone under the age of 18.

Owens testified at a hearing last year that, in the name of fairness, Gamble, who was 18 at the time of the killings and did not fire a shot, shouldn't face the death penalty if Presley did not. Shelby County Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner, also a Republican, agreed recently and ordered a new sentencing hearing for Gamble, who will get a sentence of life in prison without parole.

In taking over the case, King said he would try to make the death penalty stick.

Russell County District Attorney Kenneth Davis, president of the District Attorneys Association, said Owens "has been unfairly and unnecessarily attacked by the attorney general" for doing what he was morally bound to do in seeking equal justice.

By attacking Owens, "the attorney general has attacked all of us," Davis said.

Davis and Owens were among 30 district attorneys who gathered on the Statehouse steps Monday — in view of King's office on the third floor — to call for King to apologize. What they got was more criticism.

"This is not the first time Mr. Owens has rejected the painful pleas of a murder victim's family by choosing to support the killer who murdered their loved ones in cold blood, but this time has even testified in the killer's behalf. This is a shocking, inexcusable violation of his oath of office and a betrayal of those who depend on him for protection and justice," King said in a statement.

King, 39, was serving as Gov. Bob Riley's legal adviser when Riley appointed him attorney general in 2004. King won a full term last year by defeating Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., a Democrat.

At the news conference, Owens' colleagues pointed out that he's been a district attorney longer than King has been a lawyer. And they congratulated Owens after he said King took over the case in retaliation for him endorsing Tyson last year.

"I want him to be the attorney general and leave politics at home," Owens said at the news conference.

Tyson, who was among the district attorneys at the event, said King took "an unnecessary cheap shot" at Owens. He said the case was already in the appeals stage, which the attorney general controls, and there was no need to take over the case publicly from Owens other than for political antics.

"I had hoped at some point he would grow up," Tyson said.

A spokesman for the District Attorneys Association said the only district attorney who did not approve the statement criticizing King was Houston County prosecutor Doug Valeska, whose brother is a veteran employee of the attorney general's office.

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

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