MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A death row inmate asked the Alabama Supreme Court on Monday to review his nearly 30-year-old conviction, arguing jurors never heard evidence that could have proven his innocence.
Lawyers for Bill Kuenzel said prosecutors withheld evidence that would have cast doubt on the witness and plea deal testimony that led to his conviction for the 1987 slaying of a Sylacauga convenience store clerk.
"This court represents his final opportunity to secure relief from conviction. Bill Kuenzel did not commit the crime for which he was convicted," lawyers for Kuenzel wrote in the court filing.
Kuenzel was convicted of killing Linda Jean Offord during a 1987 robbery at Joe Bob's Crystal Palace in Sylacauga. His conviction was based largely on plea deal testimony from his roommate, Harvey Venn, who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and served about 10 years in prison.
A witness who placed Kuenzel at the scene initially told the grand jury she didn't know who was at the store that night and couldn't see a face. Lawyers said they later discovered that Venn, who testified that he waited in the car while Kuenzel killed the clerk, owned the same gauge shotgun as the murder weapon. Venn, who had blood on his pants, also initially told police he was with a different friend at the convenience store, Kuenzel's lawyers said.
The conservative group Eagle Forum and a group of religious leaders filed a motion in support of Kuenzel's appeal.
"They believe that extra precautions are needed for any system of justice that faces sanctioning the killing of another human being," lawyers for the group and religious leaders wrote.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in July ruled Kuenzel missed the deadline to raise the new evidence claim. Rules give the defense six months to raise an issue. Kuenzel's legal team, who at the time was in federal litigation on the case, thought the issue was properly raised in time.
Kuenzel was scheduled to be executed last month. His execution was stayed when the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to hear his case.
Lawyers for the attorney general's office told the Court of Criminal Appeals in oral arguments that other evidence corroborated Venn's testimony, including testimony that Kuenzel once told co-workers that the best way to kill someone was with a shotgun because it was harder to trace the weapon.