Anita Digernes

Remembering Jack Alderman – the longest serving death row prisoner in the US

on 29 May 2012


Jack Alderman

Sixty-one years ago today, Jack Alderman was born in Savannah, Georgia. On 16 September 2008 he was executed by that same state for a crime he did not commit. By that time, he had spent 33 years on death row, making him the longest serving prisoner awaiting execution in the US.

Based on the testimony of John Arthur Brown – Jack’s neighbour and a known drug addict and alcoholic – Jack was convicted for the murder of his wife Barbara in 1975. Since there was no forensic evidence against him, the District Attorney stated that he “structured the entire case” around Brown’s statement. A few months later, Brown was himself sentenced to death after claiming that he and Jack killed Barbara together. This was later commuted to a life sentence – a result of a deal struck between Brown and the prosecutors – and he was freed after 12 years. Always maintaining his innocence, Jack lost several appeals, and remained on death row until his death five years ago.

During his 33 years on death row, Jack gained the respect of his fellow prisoners, guards, and even the prison administration, for his peacemaking abilities within the prison community. Along with Reprieve, hundreds of individuals, faith-based organizations, and even supporters of capital punishment, advocated for his clemency.

There was a glimmer of hope on the day of his execution - a judge ordered a stay until the State Board of Patrons and Paroled had granted a “meaningful” hearing, where Jack’s legal team and witnesses could have an opportunity to appeal for clemency. Sadly, the Board – the same which offered parole to Brown – denied clemency, and Jack was executed by lethal injection just a few hours later.

Refusing to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit, Jack consistently stated until the end: “I would rather die than lie to save myself.” The horribly unfair nature of this case shows how a system created to do justice may very easily end up killing innocent people.

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