Gov. Kay Ivey picks veteran prosecutor to chair parole board

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall with Assistant Attorney General Leigh Gwathney, who has been named chair of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. (photo from the attorney general’s office)

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Gov. Kay Ivey has picked veteran prosecutor Leigh Gwathney as the new chair of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Gwathney will replace Lyn Head, who announced her resignation last week. Head’s term had expired.

Gwathney has worked for the Alabama attorney general’s office since 2014 as an assistant attorney general, the senior prosecutor for violent crimes, and the senior cold case prosecutor overseeing homicide and sexual assault cases, the governor’s office said in a press release.

From 2002 to 2014, Gwathney was deputy district attorney for Jefferson County’s Birmingham division where she prosecuted violent crimes.

“She is a proven prosecutor with an expertise and passion for the justice system, and I am proud to call on this impressive leader to serve in this capacity,” Ivey said.

Gwathney will preside over the three-person board that decides whether state inmates are released on parole.

Attorney General Steve Marshall released a statement supporting Gwathney’s appointment, which takes effect Oct. 16.

“I have worked with Leigh since becoming Attorney General two and a half years ago and I have been impressed with her knowledge of the law and her zeal for justice,” Marshall said. “She brings to the Board of Pardons and Paroles the perspective of a tough and experienced career prosecutor with a record of holding violent offenders accountable. She will ensure that the Board’s decisions adhere to the law and are in the best interests of the citizens of this state.”

Gwathney is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of Alabama School of Law.

“I am greatly honored to be asked by Governor Ivey to serve as chair of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, and I will devote my best efforts to ensuring that Alabama laws are followed and public safety is protected,” Gwathney said in a press release. “I am eager to work with my fellow Board members and Director Graddick in restoring public trust in our state pardons and paroles system.”

The selection of Gwathney is the latest change for the parole board since Ivey and Marshall began calling for reforms a year ago.

That came after parolee Jimmy O’Neal Spencer was charged with killing a 7-year-old boy and two women in Guntersville after his release on parole early last year. The state later agreed to pay $1 million to the families of the three victims.

The Legislature passed a bill backed by Ivey and Marshall that made the director of the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles an appointee of the governor. Marshall said that would make the agency more accountable. The bill codified parole guidelines on early parole consideration. It narrowed the scope of the three-member board’s work to parole decisions, removing their administrative responsibility.

Ivey named former Attorney General Charlie Graddick as the bureau director.

Graddick, who began work Sept. 1, postponed hundreds of parole hearings because he said the bureau had not taken steps to ensure it was providing legal notice to victims. Graddick placed three officials on leave pending disciplinary hearings about their job performance, including the previous director. Graddick has said he expects parole hearings to resume in November.

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