Family fights murderer’s parole

Published 12:05 am Friday, June 22, 2012


Robert Anthony “Tony” Rawls has spent the last 18 years in prison for the 1994 murder of his estranged wife, Juanita “Nita” Carroll Rawls.

Her family wants make sure the Florala man spends every second until his 2023 release date where he belongs – in prison.

Rawls, now 45, was charged with kidnapping and capital murder in the Feb. 2, 1994, shooting death of his wife. He was eligible for the death penalty, but pled in September 1995, after jury selections were finished. He is currently incarcerated in the Bullock Correction Facility, where he

To print a letter protesting the early release of Robert "Tony" Rawls, click on the photo above or see the link posted below for the pdf version .

is serving his 29-year sentence, but has a parole hearing set for July 10.

Nita’s family – her mother, Eloise Carroll, and sister, Dora Townsend – will ask the state board of pardons and parole to deny Rawls’ parole request. And thanks to family and friends, their quest has gone viral – with a letter campaign started on Facebook.

“(Rawls) stood in front of a judge and accepted what he’d done; he stood in front of a jury and accepted what he did, and now he should spend every second of that 29 years paying for what he has done,” said Townsend, a school teacher in Live Oak, Fla.

Carroll retired in 1999 as a school bus driver with the Covington County School System.

What happened:

Nita’s family described the couple’s relationship, which began when Nita was 17, as “volatile” from the beginning.

They told stories of broken bones and jail stays, and at least three attempts for Nita and the couple’s two small children to get away from the abusive relationship.

At the time of the shooting, the two were in the middle of a nasty divorce. That’s what her family thinks drove Rawls over the edge, prompting him to begin a high-speed pursuit down Florala’s Fifth Avenue that night. Case notes show that Nita then pulled into the Tom Thumb parking lot where a Florida couple observed him force the 28-year-old woman into his truck at gunpoint and threaten to shoot her if she didn’t get in. He drove down the Samson Highway, and according to Nita’s family, “murdered her in pre-meditated, cold blood.”

As part of his plea agreement, Rawls testified about the events of that night, stating that the shooting was an accident. He testified that he’d decided to commit suicide, and while driving down the road, put the gun to his temple. He said Nita grabbed the gun; the two fought over it and it went off, striking Nita in the face. The gun was less than six inches from her face, records show.

Rawls drove her to Florala Memorial Hospital for treatment, where he confessed to doctors he’d shot his wife.

Carroll said the events on the afternoon of Feb. 2, 1994, were inevitable. In fact, only days before, she’d said those very words to her daughter.

“He’d said before if he couldn’t have her, then no one would,” Carroll said. “And he meant it. I believe she knew it the whole time. The last time I saw her, I said, ‘I’m afraid he’s going to kill you.’

“I told her that I know I can’t be there for you all the time,” she said. “I told her when no one else can help you, call on God. I wonder a lot of times if she did that. Right there at the end.”

Townsend said she believed Rawls thought of her sister as a possession.

“In his own demented way, he loved her, but she was also a possession to do with as he saw fit,” she said. “Once after she left, he beat her with a baseball bat with a metal rod in it. He got two weeks in jail for that. Then, she was driving a school bus as a substitute when he forced the bus off the road. He got arrested for that, too.

“When it was all said and done, this is what it comes down to – he premeditated to murder her,” she said. “We’re asking the state of Alabama to hold him in for his 29 years.”

What’s next:

Rawls is eligible for parole approximately every four years. This will be his fourth appearance before the parole board.

To be deemed eligible for parole, the board takes into consideration the type of crime, the inmate’s sentence, what the inmate has accomplished while incarcerated and “a key point,” according to Townsend, protest from the community.

Carroll, who lost her husband, Woody, in 2001, said she has never missed a hearing and doesn’t plan to start now. She said in years past, “gobs of support” from the community has stopped Rawls’ early release. She’s hoping the same will happen again.

Jennifer Pybus, the daughter of a family friend, is working to help the family by creating the “Protesting the Parole of Murderer Robert A. Rawls” event on Facebook. She is urging supporters to protest Rawls’ release.

“I’m telling people to hand out copies to friends, family and neighbors,” Pybus said. “We can keep a violent criminal in jail for the cost of a postage stamp.”

Both Townsend and Carroll know the day will come that Rawls will be released, but they don’t believe it should before every minute of his 29-year sentence is served.

“I’m worried about after,” Townsend said. “He’s had all this time, harboring that anger.

“It’s not justice to expect my mother to live fear, and knowing when he’s paroled and she walks into the Piggly Wiggly or the drug store, and he’s standing there,” Townsend said. “You know, 18 years is not restitution for taking someone’s life.

“He’s a young man,” Townsend said. “He can still have a completely different life and his family can go and see him, but we can’t go and see Nita. And he made the decision that night – he became her judge, her jury and her executioner. He made that decision. She was powerless. He’s not served 80 percent of his sentence.”

“This is a nightmare for me,” Carroll said of losing her daughter. “I think he ought to serve every day. With the amount of time that he’s stayed, (the Department of Corrections is) turning them out every day, and I’m so worried about that.”

To print a letter in support of the Carroll family protesting Rawls’ early release, click 0622 rawls letter.