Condemned To Death: 5 of America's Longest Serving Death Row Inmates
Condemned To Death: 5 of America’s Longest Serving Death Row Inmates

Condemned To Death: 5 of America’s Longest Serving Death Row Inmates

Patrick Lynch - March 26, 2017

Condemned To Death: 5 of America’s Longest Serving Death Row Inmates
Brandon Astor Jones. Chattanooga Times Free Press

3 – Brandon Astor Jones (36 Years 4 Months)

On February 3, 2016, Georgia’s oldest Death Row inmate, 72-year-old Brandon Astor Jones, was executed by lethal injection. He spent over 36 years on Death Row after being sentenced to death for murdering Roger Tackett during the robbery of a convenience store in 1979. Jones was the second man to die for the crime; his co-criminal, Van Roosevelt Solomon, was electrocuted in 1985.

It appears as if the two men attempted to rob the convenience store and perhaps Tackett tried to stop them. Both Jones and Solomon had guns, and both fired their weapons, although each man claimed the other fired the fatal bullet. A police officer heard four gunshots in total and arrested both men in the store. He found the seriously wounded Tackett in a locked storeroom, and he later died from his injuries.

While Solomon was executed within six years of the murder, Jones spent decades fighting against his sentence. A federal court ordered a re-sentence in 1989 after it ruled that a Bible was brought into the deliberation room. The court decided that the presence of the holy text would persuade jurors to base their decision on Scripture rather than on the law. However, another jury sentenced Jones to death in 1997, but he continued to appeal. According to Jones, his lawyers did not introduce evidence of his history of childhood sexual abuse and mental illness.

Jones’ case brought to light a disturbing trend in the state of Georgia. In 2005, the state opened the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender. The goal was to find a solution to the age-old problem of defendants on trial for capital crimes with a low standard of representation. When Jones was on trial in the late 1970s, any member of the Georgia Bar could represent someone in a death penalty case. According to Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, the result was that people were sentenced to die because they had a bad lawyer instead of being sentenced for committing a terrible crime.

The case also brought up the issue of racial bias. Both Jones and Solomon were African American, and Georgia has a history of black men and women receiving woefully inadequate defense while also receiving disproportionally harsh sentences. In 1974, five years before Jones committed his crime, a man named Wilburn Wiley Dobbs received a death sentence for murder during a robbery. He court-appointed attorney didn’t bother trying to mount a defense and called Dobbs ‘boy’ throughout the trial. The attorney later admitted that he believed black people were inferior to whites.

There are numerous other instances of probable racial bias in capital crime trials, but in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled in the McCleskey case that racial bias in handing down death sentences wasn’t unconstitutional unless intent was proven. Critics called it ‘New Jim Crow’ and suggested that the ruling immunized the justice system from instances of racial bias.

Jones made a final attempt to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment in January 2016, but failed and was executed by lethal injection on February 3, 2016. It was a messy execution and took almost an hour as the executioners struggled to find an appropriate vein on Jones’ left and right arms. Eventually, a doctor injected it into his groin.

Condemned To Death: 5 of America’s Longest Serving Death Row Inmates
Bittaker (left) and Norris (right). Sick of your Crap

4 – Lawrence Bittaker (36 Years)

While everyone on this list was convicted of a capital crime, Bittaker could be considered the most evil man in this article. Along with his accomplice Roy Norris, Bittaker raped, tortured, and murdered five teenage girls over a period of several months in 1979. Even allowing for the slow-turning wheels of justice, it is remarkable that Bittaker has yet to be executed. Norris received a life sentence in return for testifying against his partner in crime.

The vile nature of their deeds is such that experienced FBI agent John Douglas said Bittaker was the single most disturbing individual he has ever performed a criminal profile on. Steven Kay, a prosecutor in California, said Bittaker was the worst criminal he has ever encountered, with his partner Norris a close second. In his opinion, Bittaker deserves the death penalty more than anyone in the state of California, yet he is still alive.

Both Bittaker and Norris were career criminals; Bittaker served time for attempted murder while Norris was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and within months of his release, he raped a young woman. They met in prison in San Luis Obispo and soon came up with a plan to murder a teenage girl of every year from the ages of 13 to 19. They put their plan into action soon after their respective releases. For a four month period in 1979, they picked up 20 female hitchhikers. They did not assault any of these women; the purpose was to conduct ‘trial’ runs to see how easily they could lure women into their van.

Satisfied with their reconnaissance, they murdered their first victim on June 24, 1979. She was the first of five victims with the final girl murdered on October 31, 1979. They became known as the ‘Tool Box Killers’ because the items they used to torture and kill victims were found in a household toolbox. Although Bittaker apparently has one of the highest IQs of any Death Row inmate in the United States, his partner seemingly does not because Norris bragged about the crimes to an acquaintance named Jimmy Dalton. Dalton reported the information to the police and a young woman named Robin Robeck identified Bittaker and Norris as the two men who raped her on September 30. For some reason, they allowed her to escape in the midst of their murderous spree.

Police arrested both men and found evidence of their crimes. They were found guilty, and Bittaker received the death sentence on March 24, 1981. Norris testified against Bittaker with the guarantee that he would not be executed. He was eligible for parole in 2009, and while it was turned down, he could be released in 2019. To date, Bittaker has filed approximately 40 frivolous lawsuits while in prison; complaining about receiving crushed sandwiches and broken cookies and suggesting they are examples of ‘cruel and unusual punishment. He has also claimed he is afraid of death, and it appears as if he will die in his San Quentin cell as there is no plan to execute him anytime soon.

Condemned To Death: 5 of America’s Longest Serving Death Row Inmates
Jack Alderman. MYAJG

5 – Jack Alderman (33 Years)

At the time of his execution in Jackson, Georgia on September 16, 2008, Alderman had the distinction of being the longest-serving Death Row inmate to be executed (later surpassed by Jones). This is one of the reasons why he makes the list when others such as Thomas Eugene Greech, Michael Morales, and Albert Greenwood Brown have spent longer on Death Row. There are suggestions that Alderman might have been the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice as the circumstances surrounding the murder of his wife Barbara Jean on September 21, 1974, were not completely clear. Her body was found in her car in Effingham County, and the county police detained Alderman the following day and kept him in prison for 10 days.

Meanwhile, a man named John Brown was also questioned and he initially confessed to beating Barbara Jean to death with a wrench. However, Brown changed his story and claimed he killed the woman with Alderman who allegedly paid him for his help. Later on, Brown admitted that he accepted benefits to testify against Alderman.

The case against Alderman was weak; the prosecution claimed he tried to defraud a sum of $20,000 from his wife’s life insurance. Other than this motive, the only real evidence against Alderman was Brown’s testimony as the prosecution had no forensic proof. He refused plea bargains that would have saved his life because he protested his innocence and would not confess to a crime he apparently didn’t commit.

In November 1974, there was supposed to a preliminary hearing which was a joint indictment of Alderman and Brown, but the State did not present Alderman’s attorney with crucial documents until two working days before the hearing. As a result, the lawyer (who was 78-years-old) did not speak on his client’s behalf, which meant the joint indictment became separated into two trials with Alderman in court first. Despite relying on the testimony of the alcoholic, drug addicted Brown, the prosecution succeeded in its task and Alderman was found guilty and sentenced to death on June 14, 1975.

Brown was also found guilty and sentenced to death in November 1975, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1978. Alderman was supposed to be executed on July 6, 1980, but a Federal Judge ordered a retrial while the State of Georgia appealed. In 1985, Alderman was offered life imprisonment in exchange for a guilty plea, but again, he refused and was found guilty and sentenced to death on April 1.

Over the next quarter of a century, he had numerous appeals turned down and a number of organizations in Europe appealed to the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary to ensure Alderman received a stay of execution. These attempts failed, and the unfortunate man received one more false piece of hope in 2007 when his original execution date was canceled as the Supreme Court debated on the constitutionality of death by lethal injection. Finally, Alderman died on September 16, 2008, and to this day, a large number of people familiar with the case believe an innocent man died.