The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 12, 2008

10 murder cases await trial

By Sonny Turner

Limestone County’s Kristi Valls was a busy district attorney in 2007, but 2008 promises to be even more challenging.

Valls has 10 murder cases pending for trial, with seven of those being capital cases, including one she must retry.

Kathy Birge, 53, of Madison is getting another trial after the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously overturned her 2003 capital-murder conviction. Birge was previously convicted of poisoning her husband, Cecil Birge, in 2001.

“I wish we could get to all of them this year but if we are able to dispose of five of the murder cases, we’ll be lucky,” Valls said. “It’s going to take time to try them all.”

In the Birge case, the high court said the Indiana pathologist who performed the autopsy on her husband could not name everyone who handled the toxicology samples and, as a result, overturned the conviction and ordered another trial.

The autopsy was performed in Indiana because Cecil Birge’s daughter had him buried there. The question of how he died did not come up until after his death.

A new trial date for Birge has not yet been set.

Valls said the first capital-murder case set for trial this year will come Feb. 25, when Andrew Lackey, 24, of Huntsville will be tried. He is accused of killing 80-year-old Charlie Newman on Halloween night 2005.

Police accuse Lackey of shooting and stabbing Newman to death during a robbery at his Hine Street home in Athens.

Tentative trial dates have been set in several other murder cases, except for the case against Ulises Reyes Mercado, who police believe has fled to Mexico.

Mercado is a suspect in the 2005 execution-style slaying of Decatur mechanic Andres Flores Galicia. Investigators said Galicia, who also used the last name Flores, was found in a ditch near Greenbrier. Investigators believe Galicia and Mercado’s wife were lovers.

Valls said she does not expect all of the pending cases to actually go to trial. Some defendants will likely plead guilty in hopes of a lighter sentence.