Convicted child killer Judith Ann Neelley has been again denied parole (Thursday) for the slaying of a 13-year-old girl that took place more than four decades ago.
Neelley’s case was before the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles on Thursday, and eight people testified at the hearing against parole for 59-year-old Neelley; no attorneys or advocates for Neelley spoke. The entire hearing lasted some 23 minutes and, after about three minutes of deliberation, the three-member board unanimously denied her parole.
One of the sisters and brother of the victim, Lisa Ann Millican, were among those who spoke against Neelley’s release before the board announced their decision. “She killed a child,” said Tina Millican. “Why keep going through this? Why keep putting families through this?”
Former District Attorney Mike O’Dell also testified, saying Neelley “killed for simple sport” and calling her “evil and depraved.”
Lisa Ann Millican was abducted from a shopping mall in Rome, Ga., in September 1982 by Neelley and her husband, Alvin Neelley. Judith Ann Neelley was later found guilty of the rape and murder of Lisa. O’Dell detailed the crime to the board: After abducting the child, the Neelleys held 13-year-old Lisa captive, brutalized her and, according to court records, Alvin Neelley raped the girl several times. Three days after the abduction, Judith Ann Neelley handcuffed Lisa to a tree at Little River Canyon in Alabama’s DeKalb County and used a needle and syringe to inject her six times with bleach and drain cleaner, causing “excruciating pain.” When that failed to kill the young girl, Judith Ann Neelley shot her and pushed her body into the canyon.
After years of fighting for a shot at freedom, Neelley was first set for a parole hearing in May 2018. The board deliberated for just one minute before denying parole. Several spoke at the hearing then, too, including members of the victim’s family and O’Dell, who prosecuted Neelley.
The denial of parole means Neelley will continue to serve her life sentence at Julia Tutwiler Prison. She will be up for parole again in May 2028.
Lisa Ann Millican’s sister-in-law Cassie Millican (left) and sister Tina Millican (right) speak about their relief that the parole board denied freedom to Judith Ann Neelley on May 25, 2023. (Ivana Hrynkiw | email@example.com)
Even if Neelley had been granted parole by the board, she would not be free: Georgia has a detainer warrant pending for Neelley for a consecutive life sentence in a 1999 kidnapping case — meaning that, if released from Tutwiler, authorities in Georgia would likely arrest Neelley and take her to a Georgia state prison.
Neelley’s case has been publicized in Alabama for years, not only because of the brutality of Lisa Ann Millican’s killing, but because of how she escaped death row. Neelley was originally sentenced to die, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison by former Alabama Gov. Fob James before he left office in 1999.
But the former governor’s order didn’t do what he planned, James said later. The order he authorized did not specify whether Neelley would be eligible for parole. The legislature changed state law in 2003 specifically to block Neelley from the possibility of parole, but a federal judge years later ruled that law unconstitutional.
She is the only death row inmate in modern Alabama history to be granted commutation.
Others who spoke at the Thursday parole hearing included victim’s advocates, members of local police and judicial agencies who investigated Neelley’s crimes in both Alabama and Georgia, and a member of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.
Clay Crenshaw, with the AG’s Office, handled Neelley’s prior appeal in federal court. He said the legal team was awaiting an execution date for her when they received a “poorly handwritten note” from James announcing the commutation. “I don’t know how any governor can make a horrible mistake like that,” he said about the issues that arose with Neelley being allowed a shot at parole.
“She should have been executed 20 years ago… she is pure evil.”
Also present at the hearing was Deborah Callahan, the daughter of another one of the Neelleys’ victims, Janice Chatman. Chatman, of Rome, Ga., was 22 when she was killed. Judith Ann Neelley pleaded guilty in that case and agreed to testify against her husband for the slaying; Alvin Neelley died in prison in Georgia in 2005.
Callahan told the parole board through tears that she once read a story about how her mom screamed when she was shot, only referring to Neelley as “this monster.”
“I hope Judith Ann Neelley hears that holler everyday.” she said after the hearing. Callahan said she was okay with Neelley spending her life in Alabama’s prison system and not being moved to Georgia.
Earlier this week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey expressed her feelings about Neelley in a letter to the parole board. The governor said she “categorically and unequivocally” opposed parole, and that Neelley shouldn’t be allowed to leave Alabama prisons.
“It has been said that ‘mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent,’” Ivey wrote, “and I wholeheartedly agree.”
In her letter, Ivey called James’ commutation a mistake.
One of Lisa’s former teachers, Cathy Carr, spoke to reporters outside the building where the hearing was held. She said Lisa, who was living in a group home in a small Georgia town at the time of her kidnapping, was a shy and sweet little girl. She had just started at the school where Carr taught after being placed there by the foster care system. “She was just getting on her feet and starting to make friends,” Carr said.
“(As) teachers, your students are your babies,” she said. “She’ll always be my baby.”