Sentenced to Life Without Parole at 17 and Denied Freedom at 52

By Lauren Gill, The Appeal

Photo illustration by Kat Wawrykow. Photo from Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Kat Wawrykow. Photo from Getty Images.

On the night of Oct. 20, 1983, Kathy Bedsole had a date with her boyfriend, Chuck Leonard. It was nearly Halloween, and the pair, both 16, were planning to go to a haunted house in Trussville, a town northeast of their homes in Birmingham, Alabama. Leonard picked up Bedsole at 9 p.m. Before she left, her father, Anthony Bedsole, gave her $40. She was going to a football game with friends the next day, and he wanted to make sure she had cash to pay for her ticket and food. 

On the east side of Birmingham, David Duren and Richard Kinder had devised a plan for the night: They were going to rob something or someone. In need of cash to buy marijuana, Duren, who was four years older than 17-year-old Kinder, suggested that they rob a Mrs. Winner’s fast food restaurant. Kinder was in.

Duren had a different idea, though, as they came upon an Oldsmobile sitting on the side of the road. Duren told Kinder that they would steal the car and any occupants would go into the trunk. Duren, who was armed with a gun, and Kinder, who was holding a knife, approached the window of the car; Leonard and Bedsole were inside. Unable to find the haunted house, and with Bedsole’s 11 p.m. curfew approaching, the couple had turned back for Birmingham. 

Duren ordered them to get into the trunk. He and Kinder then drove the Oldsmobile to the Mrs. Winner’s drive-through. When the cashier saw Duren flash his gun at the window, she screamed that the restaurant was being robbed. Spooked, Duren and Kinder sped away. “We had to get rid of them because they seen us and identified us,” Kinder later recalled of Duren’s next words to him, referring to Bedsole and Leonard. Kinder protested; the pair wouldn’t be able to identify them, he said, and he and Duren should just leave them in the trunk. Kinder later recalled that Duren told him he wouldn’t shoot Bedsole because she hadn’t seen him. Following Duren’s instructions, Kinder then proceeded to tie the pair up with a rope and remove the $40 from Bedsole’s purse. He got back into the car and started the ignition. Five shots rang out. “You didn’t shoot them, did you?” Kinder remembered asking.

Kinder and Duren were arrested that night and charged with capital murder. Bedsole had died, while Leonard survived and made his way to a nearby porch. A woman, seeing Leonard, alerted police. 

Jefferson County Juvenile Court Judge Sandra Storm transferred Kinder to adult criminal court, where then-Jefferson County District Attorney John DeCarlo sought the death penalty for both men. He was running for election at the time of the 1984 trial, on a tough-on-crime platform. At the end of an emotional trial, the jury recommended that Kinder be sentenced to die. 

Alabama law at that time allowed a judge to overrule the jury’s recommendation, a practice abolished in 2017. Many judges used that authority to overrule life sentences and send people to death row. But Judge James Hard, citing testimony from Leonard, Duren, and Kinder, determined that Kinder had played a minor role in the killing. Lead investigator Detective Eddie White was of the same opinion; he testified that Kinder was telling the truth about his role in the crime. Hard overruled the jury’s recommendation, and sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole—the only alternative punishment available under state law. 

Duren, on the other hand, received the death penalty and was executed in 2000. In an affidavit, Duren’s attorney said that for years after the crime, until his death, Duren maintained that none of the plans for that night were made by Kinder. He said he never told Kinder he was going to shoot Bedsole and Leonard.

Like 2,800 other people in the United States, sentenced as children to life without parole, Kinder was facing death in prison. Then, in a series of landmark decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children must be sentenced differently. 

In its 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, the court held that juvenile life without parole sentences were unconstitutional, except for rare circumstances. To support her opinion, Justice Elena Kagan cited Graham v. Florida—another juvenile life without parole case—writing that each state “must provide ‘some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.’” Four years later, the court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its decision in Miller applied retroactively, to cases before 2012. Kinder would have a chance at freedom. 

At a July 2017 resentencing hearing—33 years since Kinder’s sentencing—Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Teresa Pulliam heard from Kinder and other witnesses. He had gotten clean, they said, earned his college degree, and moved into the prison’s faith-based honors dorm. He had married a volunteer he met at the Jefferson County Jail while he awaited trial. In his years at St. Clair Correctional Facility, he had one minor disciplinary infraction. “I hope the victims of my crime will find it in their hearts to forgive me,” he said, reading a letter he had written. “I know that must be a very difficult thing to do.” 

Bedsole’s father Anthony and her sister, Susan Harris, testified that they wanted Kinder to stay in prison for the rest of his life. In an interview with The Appeal, Anthony said the investigating officers told him shortly after the crime occurred that Kinder had pushed Duren into shooting his daughter and Leonard, a narrative later refuted in court testimony and affidavits. “Deep down I thought that was wrong that the Supreme Court said to retry him,” he said of Kinder’s resentencing. “We thought it was over and we were trying to live our lives.”

But Pulliam determined that there was “uncontradicted evidence” that Kinder had worked to better himself, even while believing that he would spend the rest of his life at St. Clair. “A ‘potential for rehabilitation’ has been clearly proven here,” she wrote in her July 2017 order. 

Now eligible for parole, Kinder, then 52, appeared before the board a year later. Board members heard the story of Kinder’s transformation, as Pulliam had. If he were granted release, Kinder planned to go live with his wife in her home outside Huntsville. He hoped to get a job with a moving company. 

Once again, Anthony Bedsole said he wanted Kinder to stay in prison. So did Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. In a letter to the board, Marshall wrote, “An early release would defeat the retribution purposes of the State’s penal system and would undermine the overall goal of incarceration.” 

The parole board denied Kinder’s application on the spot. Alabama does not require the board to issue a written decision explaining itself. Kinder’s attorney, Richard Jaffe, who also represented him at his capital murder trial in 1984, was distraught. “If there’s anyone that deserves parole, it’s this kid,” he told The Appeal. “It’s an unbelievable story of redemption.”

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Olivia McDowellComment