Death row inmate released after plea deal in problem case

Deputies escort Emanuel Gissendanner into Dale County courthouse in this June 17, 2019 photo.
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Ozark (WTVY)-- A man who spent years on death row for the murder of an elderly Dale County woman is free after a plea deal.

A jury in Ozark convicted Emanuel Gissendanner in 2003 for beating 77-year old Margaret Snellgrove two years earlier.

However, the judge who presided over that trial later ruled Gissendanner's attorneys failed to adequately represent him.

That ruling from Judge Kenneth Quattlebaum, now retired, put prosecutors in a difficult situation, especially after the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

“We completely disagree with (Judge Quattlebaum's) order. However, the manner in which that order was written handcuffs the state of Alabama,” Dale County District Attorney Kirke Adams said.

Believing it would be difficult to secure another conviction, prosecutors in Adams' office
made a deal.

They allowed Gissendanner, now 43, to plead guilty to one count of murder and another judge sentenced him to time he has already served behind bars---18 years.

.”While Mr. Gissendanner is not saying he's guilty he is saying it's in his best interest to take the plea,” said defense attorney Becca Wahlquest.

She believes another man, now deceased, killed Ms.Snellgrove.

“This is not justice. That man (Gissendanner) went riding in her (stolen) car with her Bible on the front seat,” Paula Link, Snellgrove's niece, told WTVY.

There is little doubt Gissendanner drove that stolen car and he also cashed a check belonging to the victim.

Investigators said they found Ms. Snellgrove's blood on clothing they believe belonged to Gissandanner.

However, they lacked an eyewitness to the crime and others who could have testified in a retrial have died.

Besides the murder plea, Gissendanner also admitted to cashing that check stolen from Ms. Snellgrove.

Link, like Adams, blames Quattlebaum but is accepting of the plea deal. “I'm pragmatic,” she said.

(Author's note: Dale County District Attorney Kirke Adams said some accounts claimed Gissendanner had been convicted of raping Ms. Snellgrove. While facing that charge during his 2003 trial, the jury found him not guilty of rape but convicted him on capital murder charges.)