Bracewell to be resentenced

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 19, 2016

Courts expected to ‘start over’ with 1981 murder sentence

Debra Bracewell’s life without parole sentence may be among the first ones revisited in Alabama as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on juvenile sentences.

0518-bracewellBracewell, now 56, was 17 in August of 1977 when Rex Carnley was shot nine times.

Carnley was the owner of Rex Carnley and Sons on Hwy. 84 East of Opp, and was found shot to death by a customer early on the morning of Mon., Aug. 15.

Mrs. Bracewell and her husband, Charles Bracewell, have each been found guilty of the murder twice in Covington County jury trials. Department of Corrections records show Charles Bracewell is currently incarcerated in Donaldson

Mrs. Bracewell was back in court yesterday after both her attorneys from the Equal Justice Initiative and attorneys from the Alabama Attorney General’s office agreed that she is entitled to relief based on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama. The ruling said it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without parole. At the time she was sentenced, Alabama law held that those found guilty of capital murder could be sentenced to death, or life without parole.

Carla Crowder, who represented Mrs. Bracewell at the hearing, said a second U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued this year in Montgomery v. Louisiana held that Miller is retroactive.

“The Supreme Court said in Montgomery that it is only in the rarest of cases that life without parole should be imposed (for juveniles),” Crowder said. “The court put the burden on the state to show that a juvenile offender was incorrigible, and could not be rehabilitated,” she said. “In Miller and Montgomery, prior to resentencing, courts have to look at a number of factors.”

Crowder said the court has to consider the defendant’s mental state, his or her intellectual capacity, and the influence of co-defenders, both at the time of the crime and in the present.

“Here, we are dealing with someone who has served 38 years for an act that occurred when she was 17, with a much older male co-defender,” Crowder said.

Crowder said juveniles have an ability to change and grow, and she believes judges will be asked to look at their records during incarceration, as well.

“If she were sentenced to life, it would not be an automatic release, but a decision of the parole board.”

Assistant Attorney General Stephanie C. Billingslea said she believes the court has the option of resentencing Mrs. Bracewell to life without parole, or to life.

When Judge Ben Bowden, who heard the motions, quizzed attorneys about their understanding of the case, Billingslea said this is the first one of this kind she has handled.

“We have one other one we’re working on in our office,” she said.

Bowden asked the two attorneys to work together on a scheduling order. He said he expects it to take several months for either side to prepare for a sentencing hearing.

“It seems to me that trying to find these old records is going to be a challenge,” Bowden said. “Maybe not. They may be readily available. I’m thinking it’s going to take three or four months for this to come together.