Andalusia man pleads guilty during trial

Published 11:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2024

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Zachary Bryan Langford, 35, of Andalusia, pled guilty during the middle of his jury trial to charges of possession of a controlled Substance.

Langford, who has never been arrested before, was put on probation but was ordered to complete a six-month residential rehabilitation program as a condition of his agreement with the District Attorney’s Office. He will also have to attend substance abuse meetings weekly, complete the court referral program, and a host of other things all designed to facilitate his continued sobriety.

District Attorney Walt Merrell and Hunter Price, a third-year law student at Jones School of Law in Montgomery, prosecuted the case.

“This is a unique case for several reasons,” Merrell said. “The Alabama State Bar allows for third year law students, in some circumstances, to serve as an apprentice under another licensed attorney. Hunter grew up here, graduated from Pleasant Home School, and wants to practice law here. So, he spent the last six months working in our office as such an apprentice. In addition to learning the ins and outs of practicing law as a prosecutor, preparing for this jury trial was part of his responsibilities, and he did a great job throughout.”

“This was my first jury trial,” Price said, “and it was a great experience. I learned a lot from Mr. Walt, and I am glad I got those ‘first time butterflies’ out of the way.”

Price had the benefit of conducting the Voir Dire examination of the jury pool, preparing an opening statement, and questioning witnesses. “As far as I know, I am the only lawyer from my class who has a jury trial under their belt,” Price said.

Merrell said, “I tell law students all the time that nothing about law school truly prepared me for the practice of law. I always encourage them to get summer jobs where they can get their fingers in the mud, so to speak. This third-year practice program is a great way for law students to do just that. Hunter did a great job and I’m proud of how hard he worked and how much he overcame to stand in front of that jury. He has a great career in front of him. I’m excited to see where he goes from here.”

“I suppose I would have liked to have finished the trial,” Price remarked. “But the way it ended was truly remarkable. I know that I learned things that day that law school could never have taught me because it was such an unusual circumstance.

“Mr. Walt and I both felt very confident that Langford was going to be convicted” Price added. “The case was pretty open and shut. We even talked of how we thought Langford was making a bad decision because he would likely end up in prison. With this being his first felony charge, neither one of us felt good about that, but Langford was adamant that he was not going to plead guilty.”

Price said that what happens inside the courtroom is often not a complete picture. What he witnessed during one of the breaks during the trial is where he learned the true value of being a prosecutor.

“Mr. Walt got up and walked over and sat down right next to the defendant. His lawyer was sitting right next to him as well. Mr. Walt started talking about who his parents were, how many kids he had, and where they all lived. Mr. Walt then started explaining to him how all that he wanted was for Mr. Langford to be the best dad he could be. They talked for five or 10 minutes, and, by the end of it, Langford was visibly emotional, remorseful, and was thanking Mr. Walt and shaking his hand profusely. This didn’t have anything to do with law school. This had to do with the person sitting across the aisle and the others who had been affected by Langford’s actions — his children. All Mr. Walt did was remind Langford of how important it was for his children to have a sober-minded father. Langford finally admitted that he wanted to be that dad to his children.”

Price said they talked of the best options for rehab and Merrell offered “any help he could give” to Langford to see him succeed. “Twenty minutes later, Langford was standing in front of Judge Short and pleading guilty.”

Merrell diverted any efforts to discuss the conversation he had with Langford, but he did say, “I hear people complain all the time that our country is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m not entirely sure I agree, but maybe it is. People also ask me all the time what’s the ‘one thing I would do to truly affect crime.’ They expect me to talk about gun control or decriminalizing drugs. Truth is I am a strong advocate for the 2nd Amendment, and, as a child of addiction, I have no interest in decriminalizing drugs. Instead, I tell them the first thing I would do is restore a father and a mother in the life of every child.”

Merrell added, “Justice was done because Hunter and I gave Mr. Langford a chance to restore himself in the lives of his children. We did justice to Langford. We did justice for Langford’s children.”