Brooklyn reacts to latest development in 1996 triple-murder

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Old wounds that never healed in the small Conecuh County communities of Brooklyn and Johnsonville have had salt poured on them according to residents due to a recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court Friday, April 25.

In a 5-4 ruling, the justices overturned the death sentence of Ethan Eugene Dorsey (not Ethan J. Dorsey, lieutenant with the Andalusia Fire Department), who was convicted in February 1998 of capital murder in the death of 13-year-old Timothy Bryan Crane, and the felony murders of Richard Cary and Scott Williams, who was the boyfriend of Crane's mother, during the robbery of a store owned by Cary in the Johnsonville community near Brooklyn. Dorsey's conviction was accompanied by the conviction of co-defendant Calvin Middleton - who was convicted on three counts of capital murder - but received life in prison without parole.

According to the Associated Press, the court said Dorsey's felony murder convictions should stand, but Dorsey was actually acquitted of the capital murder charge when the jury later convicted Dorsey of felony murder for the same death.

Justice Tom Woodall, writing the majority opinion for the court stated, "We conclude that Dorsey's conviction under count 1 for the lesser offense of felony murder as to Carne precluded any further consideration of his intent by the jury, and necessarily acquitted him of the capital-murder charge in count 3 of the indictment."

That opinion conflicts with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals unanimous decision to uphold the capital murder conviction.

First reviewed by the court in May 2001, Dorsey's case was sent back to the trial court and Circuit Judge Sam Welch to dismiss a robbery conviction against Dorsey because it was encompassed in the murder convictions and to correct his sentencing order, the AP said. Welch did, and then criminal appeals court then found everything in order and upheld the conviction.

As for the small communites of Brooklyn and Johnsonville, the news was received with dismay and disbelief. Citizens fought to hold back the emotions they felt inside upon hearing of the ruling, although many citizens expressed their opinions through shaky voices and tearful eyes.

Janice Matthews, who used to work at Cary's store and now owns her own store in the Brooklyn community, said she doesn't think the court's ruling is fair.

"It's just not fair," she said with a forceful tone. "It touches a nerve with me, because if I hadn't bought my own business, I could have been the victim. I had worked in that store and knew them well. I know that Scott's sister was very upset. And Brian, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Helen Pate, a Brooklyn resident, said she also feels the court erred in its decision.

"I don't think it (the death sentence) should have been dropped," Pate said. "I feel that murder is murder. I know this community hasn't recovered, and it is just as real today as it was the day it happened. You always wonder if you might be the next one."

One of the reasons the Supreme Court's decision is drawing so much response is the fact that now Dorsey could be eligible for parole in four years, according to Conecuh County District Attorney Tommy Chapman.

Chapman told the Evergreen Courant that with the time Dorsey has already served, he could be paroled in as little as four years.

That also struck a chord with the Brooklyn and Johnsonville-area residents.

"I think it's wrong that he could be eligible for parole," said Robert Rhoades. "At the very least the sentence should have been changed to life in prison without parole. Personally, I think the death penalty was the right choice, especially considering it involved a 13-year-old little boy."

Debbie Gibson, who knew Williams and Cary her entire life, was really at a loss for words. Trying to fight her feelings, she said the decision made no sense.

"They killed Bryan, Scott and Richard," Gibson said as tears welled up in her eyes. "They murdered them, and they were convicted, that's all there is to it. Plain and simple - it was pure murder. Bryan, he was only a child."

Chapman told the Courant that although parole could happen, he feels like it won't, and believes the case will be re-tried. In fact, he's already contacted the State's Attorney General's Office, and with the evidence already on hand, believes a new trial is inevitable.

As for family members of the victims, Sarah Crane Graddy, Bryan's mother, said the court's decision undermines the victim's families emotions and experiences.

"It makes me sick," she told the Brewton Standard. "It's not just about the death penalty, it that I don't want him walking the streets. The families went through a lot during those trials and it continues to be an ordeal," Graddy said.

Mike Cary, Richard's son, also expressed his anger at the judge's decision.

"I'm appalled," he said. "For what they did

it's not right," he said. "They changed our lives forever and he deserves the death penalty. To even be given a chance for parole and to be asked if he has rehabilitated himself isn't right. We are all very upset about the decision."

Dorsey's mother Gail, of Andalusia, said she didn't want to comment on the situation.

"All I'll say is I'm glad the sentence has been reduced, but other than that, I don't want to comment on anything else. It's still very difficult to talk about."

Robert Bozeman of the Evergreen Courant and Robert Blankenship of the Brewton Standard contributed to this report.