Death Row Case Highlights Controversial Ruling, Dauphin Island Sea Lab Reaches Out to Kids

May 12, 2016

Students at Crestmont Elementary School in Northport, Ala. show off sea life.
Credit Alex AuBuchon / APR

Attorneys for death row inmate Vernon Madison will spend today looking for a last minute stay of execution. APR’s Pat Duggins reports the case also points out a part of Alabama’s legal system that remains controversial.

Vernon Madison is on Alabama’s death row after Mobile County Circuit Judge Ferrill McRae overrode the jury’s recommendation of life in prison. Alabama is the only state in the nation where a judge can do that.

Madison was charged with the 1985 killing of Mobile police officer Julius Schulte, who was responding to a domestic disturbance call. Alabama appellate courts rejected his first two convictions because blacks were excluded from the jury, and improper testimony from an expert witness. It was following the third trial that judge McRae sentenced Madison to death against the recommendation of the jury.

Earlier this week, a federal judge rejected an appeal that Madison was not competent to be executed.

Students in west Alabama are getting a unique opportunity to learn about the Gulf Coast this week.

Thousands of students take field trips to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab each year, but the facility also reaches out to schools unable to travel to the Gulf Coast. A traveling classroom called the BayMobile brings the beach into schools with preserved specimens and scientific tools. This week, the BayMobile is set up at Crestmont Elementary School in Northport, and all 300 students are taking part.

Jenny Cook is a Marine Educator with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. She says this program allows kids to get up close and personal with a wide variety of ocean life.

“We have a preserved octopus sitting on the table. Sea stars and sharks and stingrays and flounders. And most of the students really enjoy that. There are some that just want to observe, and that’s okay, too. If they don’t want to hold the octopus, they don’t have to. But I think most of them enjoy at least seeing it.”

For more information on the program or to request a visit from the BayMobile, head to the Sea Lab’s website at DISL.org.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley isn’t ruling out the possibility of a special legislative session this year, but he says legislators need some vacation time before he makes that decision.

Bentley says he plans to decide on a special session in the "next couple of months."

One of the principal issues the governor would like to address is a shortfall in Medicaid funding in the General Fund budget set to take effect in October. The governor says funding for Medicaid is short $85 million, at a "minimum."

Republican Rep. Jim Patterson is urging Bentley to call a special session to allow lawmakers to work out the distribution of $1 billion from the BP oil spill settlement.

Bentley's comments come just days before jury selection is set to begin in House Speaker Mike Hubbard's ethics trial. Bentley, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and multiple state legislators and lobbyists have been subpoenaed to testify at the trial.