Alabama's longest-serving death row inmate dies from pneumonia at 61

Arthur Giles served more than 40 years on death row after being convicted of a double murder

Madeline Roth
Wednesday 14 October 2020 00:23
Alabama’s longest-serving death row inmate died at age 61, after spending more than 40 years behind bars.
Alabama’s longest-serving death row inmate died at age 61, after spending more than 40 years behind bars.

Alabama death row inmate Arthur Lee Giles, who served more than 40 years behind bars, has died from pneumonia. He was 61.

At the time of his death on September 30, Giles was the longest-serving inmate on death row. He was never executed after repeatedly appealing his sentence.

Giles was one of two men convicted in the 1978 murders of Carl and Wilene Nelson in Blount County, Alabama. Giles was 19 at the time and worked for the Nelsons picking fruit and vegetables on their farm. He and his accomplice, Aaron Jones, were convicted of going to the Nelson home to rob them, and then shooting the man and woman with a gun and stabbing them. Giles and Jones also stabbed and shot the Nelsons' three children and Carl Nelson's mother, all of whom survived. Jones was executed in 2007.

Giles was sent to death row for the first time in 1979. An appeals court overturned his case, but he was convicted again in 1982. In 1991, a sentencing hearing landed him back on death row, where he remained for the rest of his life. During that sentencing, 11 jury members chose death and one chose life without parole.

An obituary for Giles reads, "He fought his death sentence steadfastly, and remained ever hopeful that he would obtain relief in the courts. At the time of his death, his case was pending before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta."

The obituary further stated that Giles had been suffering from brain and lung cancer since 2018. It also alleged that Giles felt remorse for the crimes he committed as a young man.

"Art humbly acknowledged mistakes in his past, which resulted heavily from the extremely adverse and impoverished conditions in which he was raised, and he sought to demonstrate to everyone around him — attorneys, prison guards, and other inmates on death row — that he was a very different man in prison from the teenager he had been before, and that he sought to spread love, hope, perseverance and faith to everyone he encountered," the obituary read.

According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, there are currently 170 inmates on death row. The department no longer lists Giles in its database.

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