Court asked to set death date
Area man sentenced to die for 1985 killing of Hartselle jeweler
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Time may be running out for a Morgan County man sitting on Alabama's death row.
Attorney General Bill Pryor is asking the Alabama Supreme Court to set an execution date for Anthony Keith Johnson of Oden Ridge. Johnson was convicted in 1985 of the killing of Hartselle jewelry wholesaler K.L. "Ken" Cantrell, 51.
Johnson was 27 at the time of the murder.
Johnson's execution is one of eight Pryor is asking the Supreme Court to schedule, including that of a man who killed an Opelika police officer and two triple murderers.
If Johnson's execution is scheduled, he could become among the first state inmates to die by lethal injection. The state legislature recently approved allowing inmates to choose between death in Alabama's notorious electric chair – nicknamed "Yellow Mama" – or by lethal injection.
If Johnson dies by lethal injection, it could be the second time he has set legal precendent in the state. The first time was when the arrested and authorities had a legal battle to remove a bullet – which prosecutors said was fired from the victim's gun – from his body.
According to reports published in the Enquirer at the time of the murder, on the night of March 11, 1984, Johnson and another man broke into Cantrell's home on Woodmont Street in the Mason Acres subdivision. Cantrell and his wife, Nell, were both home and shots were exchanged, according to prosecutors.
Testimony showed Cantrell died after being shot in the chest four times at close range. Nell Cantrell was not injured. At the time, then-Hartselle Police Chief John Pat Orr said they did not know if the robbers had been injured in the exchange of gunfire.
Johnson was later arrested in Anniston after a co-worker, whom he had approached about removing a bullet in his back, called police to report his were abouts. The co-worker, David Lindsey, was a star witness against Johnson during his trial.
At the time of the murder, Johnson was out on probation, after receiving a three-year suspended sentence for felony possession of marijuana.
The bullet was still in Johnson's back at the time of his arrest and a judge ordered Morgan County officials to treat the wound but not remove the bullet. Johnson's attorneys claimed that removing the bullet would violate his right against self-incrimination.
In a precedent-setting case, a higher court ruled the bullet could be removed. It was and was used as evidence against him at trial.
A judge sentenced Johnson to death, though the jury had recommended a sentence of life in prison. He's been on death row 17 years, slightly longer than the Alabama average of 16 years.
The lethal injection room is currently being built at Holmon Prison in Atmore. The construction is being financed by sale of prison property and is expected to be ready in about three weeks.