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Former Trooper Says Not Worried About Electric Chair

May 16, 1988

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) _ Joe Duncan, whose dark-blue state trooper uniform has been traded in for the prison whites of death row, says if all legal appeals fail, he will beg to be executed for the murder of his trooper girlfriend.

″If we develop the evidence we expect to in the next few weeks, I’ll get a new trial,″ Duncan said last week during his first interview from death row at Holman Prison.

But if the appeals fail, the only choices are life without parole, or death. Duncan, 33, speaking amid clanging metal doors and inmates’ yells, said he would prefer execution.

″If I had no chance of getting out of this institution ... I’d beg them to put me in the electric chair,″ he said.

Duncan was sentenced April 12 in the shooting death of Trooper Elizabeth Cobb, 31, whose body was found Oct. 12 in her parked patrol car behind a church where Duncan said they used to meet. She was shot three times in the head.

Duncan initially denied even knowing where the church was located. But he changed his story, saying he found Miss Cobb’s still-warm body, and failed to tell anyone for fear of being implicated.

Jurors recommended life without parole for Duncan after prosecutors presented a case based mostly on circumstantial evidence stemming from Duncan’s taped statements to investigators.

Circuit Judge J.C. Norton, however, overturned the recommendation and sentenced him to death.

On May 12, Duncan’s attorneys formally asked Norton for a new trial. Among their reasons was an allegation that an unidentified juror may have known Duncan and Miss Cobb.

Officials believe Duncan is the state’s first law officer to be sentenced to death.

″There is no way (to explain) what it’s like to go from an Alabama state trooper - and I’m talking about probably the most prestigous law enforcement job in this state - to death row in six months,″ said Duncan.

Prosecutors said Duncan killed Miss Cobb to collect $350,000 from a life insurance policy that went into effect 10 days before her death. They said the policy was taken out June 30, and that Duncan was named as beneficiary.

Duncan said he developed a ″romantic relationship″ with Miss Cobb in early June and that they almost immediately began discussing marriage.

″If Joe Duncan had put a gun to Elizabeth’s head and killed her for money, he ought to be put to death,″ said Duncan.

But Duncan, a 10-year law enforcement veteran, said he could have pulled off Miss Cobb’s murder had he wanted. ″I could have done it in a manner that wouldn’t have pointed a finger at me.″

He said the chief prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Bill Wasden, misrepresented the facts while the judge allowed jurors to hear illegal evidence.

For instance, he said the prosecution lied when it said he was badly in debt and needed the insurance money to pay, among other things, child support for his four children from a previous marriage.

Duncan said he could have presented documented evidence that most of his debts were cleared in October.

Duncan said he was pleased with his attorneys, but ″dissatisfied with the defense we went with.″

Duncan did not have harsh words for the jury, saying he could see ″where they probably came up with guilty (verdict).″

Duncan, who is among Alabama’s 96 inmates awaiting execution, said he does not know whether anyone he helped put in jail might be imprisoned at Holman.

He is receiving special security arrangements. Inmates are cleared from halls when Duncan is coming through, and he exercises alone for 45 minutes a day in a fenced area he compared to a dog run.

″The inmates have been better to me than the institution has,″ he said. ″The animals at the Birmingham zoo are in more humane conditions than what we’re in. ...

″In my cell, when I stand beside my bunk I can’t take one step without hitting the wall.″

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