On Thursday, an Alabama jury deadlocked on the case of Coy Whaley, the wiry fellow with the jagged jaw who stood trial for the murder of a Cherokee County woman, and came back with a recommended death sentence for the assault and strangulation of her roommate, Rhonda Barthelemy.
Mr. Whaley, who had been denied a jury trial, and his lawyers pleaded his case on the grounds that it would have been a shame to execute him just after his 56th birthday. His mother, neighbors and teachers said he was a gentle man with a gentle spirit.
The kind of passionate support that came from residents of Sheffield, population 41,000, was shown up on the courthouse walls on Thursday. As a juror asked for anonymity out of concern for her life, a man wearing jeans and a T-shirt with “Happy Birthday Mr. Whaley” scrawled across the back leaned over and gave her a hug, saying, “I hope you can take this great experience and carry it to your gravesite.”
Ms. Barthelemy’s brother-in-law told a local television station, “I hope it doesn’t happen to someone else.”
Mr. Whaley’s lawyer, Barry Raven, said he respected the jury’s verdict. “I believe all 11 jurors had some difficulty voting for capital punishment,” he said, adding that they ultimately resolved on an alternative sentence: life without parole, plus 60 years.
Mr. Whaley was convicted and sentenced to death in August for the murder of Rhonda Barthelemy. The state adopted the death penalty in 1982, after Alabama had approved the death penalty in 1976 and other states followed suit.
Mr. Whaley is the 10th person on Alabama’s death row to have been sentenced to die for a 2015 murder, but the second to have had a jury deadlock on his sentence. The other was Robert James Thomas, a Black Lives Matter supporter from Russellville, who was sentenced to die for the shooting death of a police officer during a traffic stop. That jury failed to agree on the death penalty, leading to a compromise sentence of life in prison without parole.
Alabama has executed 50 men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The vast majority were white men convicted of crimes that included rape, burglary and murder. Only one person, Craig Wood, was executed for a murder committed in 2011. Mr. Wood was convicted of gunning down a Perry County woman named Jennifer Morris. She was raped and beaten to death, and her body left in a Dadeville creek.
So far, the death penalty has been repealed in Alabama twice, in 1977 and 1985. In both cases, the governor, who is a Republican, stepped in and ordered a stay of execution.