The Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation that would prevent prisoners convicted of killing people from getting "good time" or good behavior bonuses for early release.
House Bill 143 (HB143) was sponsored by State Rep. Phillip Pettus (R-Killeen). Pettus calls the bill the Sergeant Nick Risner Act, in the name of Sheffield Police Sgt. Nick Risner, who was gunned down in 2021.
Pettus said the suspect in the shooting had already shot and killed his father and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but had been released due to good behavior. He was on parole when police say he came into contact with Risner.
“He is riding down the road and shoots his roommate in the head and then drops off the body in the street,” said Pettus. “Motorists got the tag number and called it in. Officer Risner was leading the effort to stop him and arrest him. He shoots two officers and just missed hitting a third. Nick Risner was hit in the head. Officer Dotson was shot three times, but his bulletproof vest saved him. The third officer was just missed. The bullet hit his headrest.”
Risner was transported to the hospital where he died the next day.
“This person would still be in prison if we did not have the good time,” Pettus said. “All this bill says is that if you kill somebody you do not get the good time.”
“What happened to this officer is truly terrible,” State Rep, Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham) said. “What was he convicted of?”
“Manslaughter,” Pettus answered. “He was on trial for murder and they plea-bargained it down.”
Rafferty asked, “Is this too broad?”
Pettus answered, “I don’t think so.”
Risner’s widow was in the House gallery for the deliberations on the bill. The body thanked her for her interest in this legislation and expressed their sadness at her loss.
“My son is a Muscle Shoals fireman,” Pettus said. “He was personal friends with Mr. Risner and he was the one who pulled him out of that car. This is personal.”
State Rep. Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville) said, “Sgt. Risner was not only a good police officer he was a good citizen. Sgt. Risner’s daughter came and visited with us yesterday. She is a freshman at the University of North Alabama. [She] and her mother are my constituents.
“What we have done with the good time is criminal. We never should have let him out. Whoever let him out should have to take his place."
“I know this is personal for you,” said House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville). “I appreciate you for bringing this and I am going to support your bill.”
But not all lawmakers were in agreement with the bill.
Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “You know we have got an overcrowded prison system and we have to do everything we can to get people out of prisons.”
According to the synopsis, “This bill would create the Sergeant Nick Risner Act. Under existing law, certain prisoners in the physical custody of the Department of Corrections are eligible for correctional incentive time. This bill would provide that any person convicted of a crime that caused the death of another person would not be eligible for correctional incentive time.”
HB143, the Sergeant Nick Risner Act, passed the Alabama House of Representatives 99-1.
The legislation now goes to the Alabama Senate for its consideration.
Tuesday will be Day 22 of the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.
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