News

An Alabama inmate is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his upcoming execution to consider whether a judge should have been able to give him a death sentence when the jury recommended life imprisonment.

Attorneys for Ronald Bert Smith filed the stay request today. Smith is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection next Thursday for the 1994 slaying of Huntsville convenience store clerk Casey Wilson.

A jury recommended life imprisonment by a 7-5 vote, but a judge sentenced Smith to the death penalty.

Hunters are clear to use an Alabama wildlife management area shut down by a major gasoline pipeline leak in September.

State officials say the William R. Ireland, Sr. Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area has been reopened between Brantleyville and Glen Carbon. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says cleanup and remediation efforts are complete, allowing big and small game hunters to return.

SPLC

Alabama’s prison system has been in the news a lot this year, and not for good reasons. Violence, inmate riots, allegations of mismanagement and corruption and a failed prison building plan in the state legislature have all pointed out plenty of problems.

The Alabama Public Radio news team has spent the past several months examining what happens as people go into the state’s prison system and what happens when they come out.

An Alabama inmate set to be executed next week is asking the governor to intervene because a judge imposed his death sentence over a jury's recommendation of life imprisonment.

Attorneys for Ronald Bert Smith wrote in a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley that the judge overrode the jury's will. The jury voted 7-5 in his case for life in prison.

Smith is currently scheduled to be executed Dec. 8 for the 1994 slaying of Huntsville convenience store clerk Casey Wilson.

Pratt City tornado
Christopher Mardorf / FEMA

Officials in Birmingham, Alabama say three of five planned community storm shelters will be open before the spring tornado season next year.

That's nearly six years after the April 27, 2011 tornadoes that devastated parts of Alabama, including the community of Pratt City. One tornado hit the northwest Birmingham community, killing one person and destroying the library, a fire station, numerous homes, apartment buildings, at least one church and several vehicles.

Four qualify for state Rep. Darrio Melton's seat

Dec 1, 2016

Four Democratic candidates will run for the state House of Representatives District 67 seat vacated by Darrio Melton.

Tuesday was the last day to qualify for the seat that covers Dallas and Perry counties. The candidates are Raymond J. Butler and Valenci'a Quest, both of Orrville; and Prince Chestnut and Latrell "Champ" Richardson, both of Selma.

Mobile adults have highest rate of diabetes

Dec 1, 2016

The City of Mobile has the highest rate of diabetes within the last year.  That’s according to a new study that surveyed nearly 200 communities across the country last year.

A Gallup-Healthways report released yesterday says 17.7 percent of adults in Mobile in 2015 had diabetes.

The report found the overall incidence of diabetes in U.S. adults has grown from 10.6 percent in 2008 to 11.5 percent.

NWS Confirms Tornadoes in several Alabama counties

Nov 30, 2016

The National Weather service has confirmed that tornadoes touched down last night in Pickens and Winston counties. 

Meteorologists say there were at least two tornadoes overnight Tuesday. Emergency managers headed out at daybreak to survey the areas where the twisters are believed to have touched down.

There were reports of homes and businesses destroyed or damaged in Pickens and Winston counties. The National Weather Service office in Huntsville is also investigating possible tornado losses.

Former astronaut pleads not guilty in deadly wreck

Nov 30, 2016

A former space shuttle commander has pleaded not guilty in a fatal wreck that killed two girls in Alabama.

Court records show 60-year-old James Halsell Jr. entered the written plea last week. The former astronaut is charged with reckless murder in a crash that killed two girls riding in a car near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in June.

Authorities say they suspect alcohol was a factor. But Halsell's lawyers filed a document in a civil lawsuit blaming the other driver for failing to yield.

At least three people were killed and many more were injured after powerful storms and tornadoes swept through Alabama last night.

The Jackson County coroner’s office has confirmed that three people are dead and several more are injured in the community of Rosalie, Alabama, north of Fort Payne. County officials say the three killed were victims of a possible tornado and were all in a mobile home.

In DeKalb County, a 24-hour daycare was completely destroyed near the town of Ider. Four children were injured and are in critical condition.

Experts: Rainfall didn't end drought in Alabama

Nov 29, 2016

Weather experts say storms that dumped as much as 5 inches of rain on Alabama didn't end the drought.

National Weather Service statistics show as much as 5 inches of rain fell near the geographic center of the state along the Shelby-Chilton county line.

Much of central Alabama got 2 inches of rain, and nearly the entire northern half of the state got at least 1 inch. The southern third of the state got less precipitation.

Dunn says uprisings, death show need for new prisons

Nov 29, 2016

The state prison commissioner says outbreaks of violence, including the stabbing death of a corrections officer last month, illustrate the need for new state prisons

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn made the remarks Tuesday as he briefed legislators on the governor's $800 million prison construction proposal. Dunn said the situation in state prisons has become urgent.

The proposal calls for the construction of three super-sized prisons for men and one for women. Most existing prisons would close.

Alabama’s state troopers say this year’s Thanksgiving holiday was more dangerous on roadways compared to last year.

From 12:01 a.m. Wednesday until Sunday at midnight, troopers investigated 14 traffic deaths compared to 10 deaths during the 2015 Thanksgiving weekend.

Al.com reports those fatal crashes occurred in Baldwin, Calhoun, Choctaw, Cleburne, Coosa, Cullman, Limestone, Macon, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Shelby and Tuscaloosa counties.

The public beaches in Gulf Shores, Alabama will be alcohol-free once again next year for Spring Break.

The Gulf Shores City Council voted unanimously last night to reinstate a ban on alcohol on the city’s beaches from March 4 through April 16 of next year. The ban applies to everyone, and no alcohol will be allowed to be possessed or consumed on the beaches during that time period.

Storms take aim at wildfires, but danger remains

Nov 28, 2016

Fire officials say a storm system moving across the South appears to be heading toward many of the largest ongoing wildfires and will help suppress them.

However, authorities say the rain moving across parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee likely won't end the fire threat and dangers posed by the blazes. Several of the largest fires are in Georgia and North Carolina.

The town of Gulf Shores is looking at continuing its ban of alcohol on its beaches during spring break season for next year.

Some worry that the ban will affect local businesses and restaurants that are dependent on alcohol sales. Mayor Robert Craft explains that the decision to vote on the ban will also affect the city by decreasing the tax revenue during that time period. However, he says the city's decision is backed by confidence from broad community support to remain a family-friendly vacation area.

Myron Thompson
Lloyd Gallman / Montgomery Advertiser

Mentally ill inmates held in Alabama’s prisons may soon be receiving better care thanks to a federal court.

Late last week, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson awarded class action status to a lawsuit on behalf of prisoners allegedly receiving inadequate medical care from the Alabama Department of Corrections. That means whatever decision is reached will extend not just to the prisoners named in the lawsuit, but all of the nearly 25,000 prisoners currently incarcerated in Alabama Department of Corrections facilities.

Here Comes Christmas!

Nov 26, 2016
bigpresh (David Precious) [Flickr]

That cute little face peeking out between the limbs of the Christmas tree is trouble in the making.  Taking care to keep your pets safe around the holiday trimmings will help to make all the seasons of the year happy ones.

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Latest stats show nearly all of Alabama in severe drought

Nov 23, 2016

The latest federal estimate shows nearly the entire state of Alabama is in a severe drought.

An assessment released by the National Drought Mitigation Center today shows that about 98 percent of the state's land mass is now locked in a severe drought after weeks without rain.

The severity of the drought varies. About 82 percent of the state is in an extreme drought, and 35 percent is experiencing an exceptional drought. That's the worst of all the drought categories.

Hubbard appealing decision on juror misconduct

Nov 23, 2016

Ousted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard is appealing a judge's ruling on allegations of juror misconduct during his ethics trial.

Lawyers for the one-time Statehouse leader filed a notice of the challenge this week with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

The defense is fighting the decision of a Lee County judge who dismissed Hubbard's claims that jury members made improper comments that were critical of Hubbard.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says he isn’t looking for an appointment to Jeff Sessions’ senate seat. But he does plan to run for the office in a special election that may not be held until 2018.

Alabama’s junior U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions was recently tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to serve as his Attorney General. That leaves a vacant seat that lots of Alabama politicians are clamoring to fill.

A teenager from Madison, Alabama can now add “Jeopardy Champion” to his college applications.

Sharath Narayan, a sophomore at James Clemens High School in Madison, won the top spot on yesterday’s final episode of the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament, by the slimmest of margins. Narayan edged out the second-place finisher Alec Fischthal by just 1 dollar. It’s worth a lot more than bragging rights – Narayan took home $100,000 in prize money for the win.

Airbus A321 will flyover Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa

Nov 22, 2016

The University of Alabama will welcome an Airbus A321 commercial airliner for a pregame flyover prior to the start of the Iron Bowl on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

This aircraft is the first A321 that is being produced for Delta Air Lines in the Airbus Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, Ala. It will be the 15th Airbus A321 delivered from the facility, which opened in September of 2015.

Judge: Ex-astronaut charged in 2 traffic deaths can drive

Nov 22, 2016

An Alabama judge says a former astronaut charged in the traffic deaths of two girls can continue driving, but with restrictions.

A judge in Tuscaloosa ruled late Friday that former space shuttle commander  James Halsell Jr. can't consume any alcohol or illegal drugs.  He also cannot take medication unless he has a prescription.

Circuit Judge Bradley Almond also ruled the 60-year-old Halsell must have a special locking device installed on his car's ignition. And the Huntsville man must undergo twice-weekly testing.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley
Wikimedia

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is looking for recommendations on who to appoint to U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions' seat.

The governor recently asked the 400-plus members of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee for their input on who should be appointed to fill Sessions' role, as he prepares for a likely spot as President-elect Donald Trump's U.S. Attorney General.

The Alabama Department of Public Health says wedding food was probably behind a salmonella outbreak that sickened about 100 people in north Alabama.

Officials say Salmonella was found both in cooked chicken and green beans following the event in Colbert County.

About 150 people were at the wedding, which was held in Tuscumbia, and the department says at least 99 people got sick. Of those, 22 people were hospitalized. Four people remain hospitalized.

Crews fighting large fire in northeast Alabama

Nov 21, 2016

Crews in northeast Alabama are fighting one of the largest wildfires yet to strike the state this fall.

The Alabama Forestry Commission says a fire near Mentone has burned more than 1,000 acres on Lookout Mountain.

National Guard helicopters are dumping water on the flames because the fire is inaccessible to bulldozers and firefighters in places. Only a few structures are at risk.

Power Utilities Wrestle With New Coal Ash Rules

Nov 21, 2016
Barry ash pond drain
EPA

Power utilities in Alabama and across the country are facing tough decisions on how to store all the ash their coal-fired power plants generate.

Last week was the deadline for utilities to post public plans for complying with new environmental regulations. That means closing the large unlined ponds that have traditionally been used to store the toxic ash. Both the TVA and Alabama Power plan to use a method called “cap-in-place”, where they’ll drain wastewater from the ponds and then cover up the more than 90 million tons of ash.

A newly-created panel is trying to find ways to make it easier for nearly 2 million Alabamians to eat healthier food.

The Alabama Healthy Food Financing Initiative Study Commission met this week to address the problem of so-called "food deserts" in the state. State lawmakers created the commission earlier this year.

The group will consult with retailers and health experts to develop projects that could be sent to the state legislature as recommendations for action during the next legislative session beginning in February.

Statistics show about 16 percent of low-income Alabama preschoolers are obese, and the problem is getting worse.

A report based on 2014 statistics from the Women, Infants and Children feeding program shows that 16.3 percent of children ages 2 to 4 in the program were obese.   

That's an increase from about 14 percent of children in 2000, when Alabama was ranked 18th nationally in the obesity statistics.

The state is now ranked 10th nationally, and statistics show the problem is getting worse. Nationally, the obesity rate about 2- to 4-year-olds is on the decline.

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