Judith Neelley, the youngest woman ever sentenced to be executed in the United States, will remain in prison for the 1982 murder of a 13-year-old Georgia girl, a decision reached by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles 18 years after the then-governor commuted her death sentence to life in prison.
Neelley was 18 and a mother of three when she was sentenced to the electric chair for kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing Lisa Ann Millican. Neelley spotted Millican outside a mall in Rome, Ga., then took the child to Alabama. Among other atrocities, she injected the child repeatedly with drain cleaner, shot her in the back, and dumped the body over a cliff.
The Alabama parole board decided against Neelley in about a minute Wednesday after impassioned pleas from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. The three-member board also heard from the man who prosecuted Neelley more than 3½ decades ago, Millican’s family, and the relatives of a Georgia woman whom Neelley murdered.
Ivey said in a statement earlier in the week that Neelley, now 53, should never be paroled. “Not now, and not ever. Her crimes … include acts of unspeakable brutality. And her character includes a disturbing tendency to manipulate others toward her own violent ends.”
This was the first time Neelley was considered for parole since then-Gov. Fob James commuted her death sentence to life on his last day in office — only three days before she was to be electrocuted. She will next be eligible for parole in 2023.
Neelley had told the parole board she wanted to waive consideration now, but leave open the option for parole later.
“Although I am grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate how much God has changed my heart and life over the past 36 years, I know that now is not the right time,” Neelley wrote in a letter reported by AL.com. “In order to spare the Millican family the pain and trauma of having to attend the hearing, I have agreed to waive my right to be considered for parole at this time. I will continue to pray daily for God’s forgiveness and for peace for the Millican family.”
The 13-year-old Millican was the first of two people Neelley admitted to killing in the fall of 1982. The child’s body was found on Sept. 28, 1982, while 23-year-old Janice Chapman was killed in North Georgia on Oct. 4, 1982.
Neelley, looking for a young girl for her husband, saw Lisa outside Riverbend Mall in Rome, Ga., where the teenager had gone for an outing with other adolescents from Ethel Harpst Home in Cedartown.
Judith Neelley and Alvin Neelley took the girl to a Scottsboro, Ala., motel, where they both sexually assaulted her over several days until they took her to the edge of Little River Canyon in Fort Payne, Ala. It was there that Judith Neelley injected Millican six times with Drano and Liquid Plumber, and shot the still-conscious girl in the back. The Neelleys then dumped Millican’s body over the edge of an 80-foot cliff. Police found it on the canyon floor four days later.
The next week, the Neelleys were again in Rome, where they kidnapped Chapman and her fiancé, John Hancock. They shot the couple, leaving them near a back road in Catoosa County in northwest Georgia.
Hancock survived and identified Judith Neelley, who was sentenced to life in prison in Georgia for kidnapping Chapman and Hancock.
Alvin Neelley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life for Chapman’s murder. Alvin Neelley died in a prison near Milledgeville in 2005.
Prosecutors and investigators described Millican’s murder as grisly, unspeakable and horrendous. But the lives of all involved were damaged long before the murders.
Millican, removed from her home in LaFayette because of allegations of neglect and abuse, was placed in four foster homes before entering a group home in Rome, and then one in Cedartown. The child had a history of trouble, and it was initially assumed she had run away when she couldn’t be found at the mall.
Judith Neelley was 9 when her father, while drunk, died in a motorcycle crash. Neelley — once an eighth-grade cheerleader and a member of the 4-H Club and the Future Homemakers of America — met Alvin Neelley when he came to her house with a man visiting her mother. Alvin Neelley was 25 at the time and married with three children.
A few weeks later, Judith and Alvin ran away together, living in motel rooms and their car. She was pregnant with twins when she was 16. That’s when Alvin divorced his first wife so they could marry.
The Neelleys supported themselves by stealing, which led to both of them being locked up.
She was at a Macon Youth Development Campus when she delivered her twins. Her third child was born while she was in jail, awaiting trial for Millican’s murder.
Judith Neelley’s defense at trial was that she killed Millican to keep her husband from beating her.
Years after she was convicted, with her execution scheduled, then-Gov. Fob James commuted her sentence. And four years later, the Alabama Legislature responded by passing a law that prohibits parole for any inmate whose death sentence was commuted to life. A federal judge ruled, however, that the law could not be applied retroactively to Neelley.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.