ROCK STAND — The attorney for a man who killed his parents in Rock Stand over 20 years ago said his client paid the price for a flawed system.
Oliver Kitchens represented Michael Travis Head, who is currently serving time in prison for the murder of his father, 43-year-old Michael Leon Head, and his stepmother, 45-year-old Vickie Freeman Head.
Head was a Randolph County High School student at the time of the murders. Classmates said they always knew something was different about Head. While he was quiet, he also displayed emotional issues and anger. Head claimed he had been physically and sexually abused continuously since he was a young child. He eventually gained the attention of the school faculty.
"A particular teacher noticed he was having problems," Kitchens told 1819 News. "He would cry. Something like, he would cry and that kind of thing and it's not normal for a 16-year-old guy to cry in school or to tear up and whatever."
Kitchens said the teacher notified the principal, who then notified the Department of Human Resources (DHR), and that's where he believes the ball was dropped.
"DHR goes to his house to see his parents and nobody is home so they check it off their list for the month," Kitchens explained. "They've done their duty; they've checked on him. The next month, almost to the day, they go back by that house and they're not there. Well, you know, most people are working during the day and if you go by once during working hours and they're not there, they're probably not going to be there the second time. They did that like three or four times, maybe more, in a row."
After years of physical and sexual abuse, Kitchens believes it took a lot for Head to come forward.
"Put yourself in his place," Kitchens said. "He's finally broke down, he's told the authorities and he's probably looking for protection and nothing happens. Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Nothing happens."
Finally, DHR scheduled a visit with the family, but Head claims the parents had time to prepare for the visit and threatened the children if they said anything to authorities.
"If DHR had been more concerned about getting him out of that environment than they were checking off a list and doing what was on their schedule, then he probably wouldn't be in prison today and two other people might be alive," said Kitchens. "Who really knows? That's a lot of 'ifs.' But you can just look at it all the way around. Maybe the teacher should've done more, maybe the principal should have done more. But DHR, that's their job. That's where I really have a real big problem with the system. That was their job."
The murder case ended in a mistrial. Kitchens said that at that time, the best thing for Head was to sign a plea deal and avoid life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
"The offer was life with the possibility of parole," Kitchens remembered. "Well, it wasn't going to get any better than that. The guy had killed two people. At the time, I couldn't understand why they couldn't have offered that five years before. This was an untold thousands of dollars that the state spent. It wrecked me and my practice. I mean, I am staying up all night on the weekends, I am working on Saturdays and Sundays. I am not taking profitable matters because I have to work on this case."
The toll the case took on Kitchens was more than just financial. He said the mental toll and lost time with his family was also draining.
"You've got a kid's life in your hands," said Kitchens. "You have a lot on your mind. If we hadn't done him a really good job at the first trial, he could've been found guilty and sentenced to death. That's a heavy experience. I still, years later, wonder if there's something else I could've done. But I also think if I had gotten him out, where would he have done and what would he have done?"
Head previously spoke to 1819 News from behind bars at Ventress Correctional Facility. He said the system is still working against him. Although he was given life with the possibility of parole, and he claims he was supposed to have a parole hearing after 20 years, he still has not been before the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
"I just want people to know I'm not a monster," Head explained. "I did bad things, and I admit that. I wish it wouldn't have happened. I've been incarcerated for being a victim most of my life. The only thing that anyone cares about is what I did in retaliation, not what was done to me to push me to that point."
Randolph County DHR has not responded to a media inquiry from 1819 News.
The Alabama DHR said in a statement, "We cannot confirm or deny any information about a particular case due to confidentiality laws."
Michael Leon Head and Vickie Freeman Head were never charged with the alleged abuse of Michael Travis Head or his siblings. Michael Travis Head told 1819 News he did not plan to kill his stepmother but that she was in the "wrong place at the wrong time." He said he now regrets killing them and wishes things could have been resolved differently.
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