Family of stabbing victim to state legislators: Change mandatory early release law

“Justice for Junior” vigil planned for Oct. 17

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Herndon “Junior” Self (Photo courtesy of Rachel Cone)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The family of murder victim Herndon “Junior” Self is appealing to Alabama’s legislators to review and amend the law that freed Self’s accused killer in a separate case only two days before the murder, despite his being denied parole in that case. Nathan Winston Stephens was denied parole by the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles (ABPP) on Aug. 11, 2020 but was subsequently released Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, two days prior to the murder, under a 2015 law requiring mandatory release of certain convicted felons, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC).

In a letter addressed to the editor of The Tribune, 11 members of Self’s family requested “collaboration with our state representatives in amending the 2015 Mandatory Release law. The law needs to be revised specifically in what allows an individual to be eligible for its benefits. As it stands now, those who are obvious habitual offenders can slip through the cracks and be released into society only to reoffend and continue to be a danger and issue in our legal system and society. Someone with a lengthy background in crime and violent offenses including rape, assault, and domestic violence (strangulation and harassment), as was the case with the suspect of ‘Junior’s’ murder, should not be eligible for mandatory release. The law must be amended requiring stricter criteria to be considered including looking specifically at the individual’s full record and making considerations based on the specific individual’s probability of recidivism. The fact that an individual has served time for past offenses should not be erased from the decision of allowing someone to be released from prison; furthermore, the most recent offense should not be the only criteria for eligibility of inmates. This law and the leniency of time served in the suspect’s multiple cases puts the lives of innocent people at risk each and every day. Innocent individuals who are law-abiding citizens are forced to be exposed to violent criminals because of this law and its flaws or lack of specific criteria to determine eligibility.”

The family’s stated goal is “to be the voice of the law-abiding citizens and demand that our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren be protected by not allowing criminals with lengthy and consistent criminal offenses to be allowed to receive shortened sentences.” 

Family representative Rachel Cone told The Tribune, “I hope that someone that is a representative of our state, who could actually help us in amending this law and getting things changed, would recognize the flaw of the law and be willing to collaborate to get it amended. And that’s kind of our goal, is just to bring attention to it. Obviously, there’s some problems with it; it’s a threat to society. That’s my goal, is to get attention to it, so it can be changed.”

Stephens has lengthy criminal record

Stephens came up for parole in August 2020 after serving one year, 11 months of a 10-year prison sentence handed down in 2018 for third-degree burglary in Marshall County. He is a convicted sex offender, charged in 2002 with second-degree rape, altering and possessing a pistol with an altered identification and possession of a controlled substance in Cullman County. Sentenced to three years, he served only a year and a half before being released early from prison.

Stephens was convicted in 2005 of first-degree receiving stolen property and possession of a controlled substance in Marshall County and possession of a controlled substance in Cullman County and sentenced to 15 years, but was again released early from prison, after serving barely a third of his sentence.

He was sent back to prison again in 2011 for 15 years, with a second and apparently concurrent sentence in 2012, for violating the sex offender registration law in Cullman and Marshall counties and for second-degree theft of property and possession of chemicals with the intent to manufacture drugs in Marshall County, but was again released from prison early after serving less than a third of his sentence.

In 2016, Stephens was arrested in Marshall County for failure to obtain proper identification in relation to his sex offender conviction. 

In 2017, he was arrested in Marshall County for third-degree domestic violence. While in the Marshall County Jail in 2017, he participated with six other inmates in a dining hall riot that started with a complaint about the supper being served and ended after the inmates damaged fire control sprinklers and other items in the dining hall. The seven were charged with inciting a riot and damaging state property.

He was arrested in September 2018 by the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office for a probation violation, failure to appear for a court date and second-degree assault.

Stephens’ court record includes arrests for illegal possession of alcohol, attempting to elude police, burglary, theft, harassment, domestic violence (separate charges of strangulation and harassment), drug possession, manufacturing a controlled substance, assault, criminal mischief and multiple violations of the terms of his sex offender registration.

Vigil planned for Saturday, Oct. 17 in Bremen

Self’s family has planned a “Justice for Junior” candlelight vigil to be held Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Rooster’s Corner, 1455 County Road 110 in the Bremen community. An open invitation reads:

“Please join us in honoring the life of Herndon ‘Junior’ Self and bring awareness to the importance of changing the 2015 Mandatory Release law. Angela Harris, mother of Aniah Blanchard, will speak on behalf of our family about her upcoming Aniah’s Law as well as the law that has devastated our family. We will have a special prayer to honor Junior and speak in memory of his impact on his family as a Father, Grandfather, Son, Brother, and Uncle and longtime community member of Cullman County, Alabama. Candles will be provided. Please respond to the event on the ‘Justice for Junior’ Facebook page if you plan on attending so we can ensure enough candles are available.”

The family sent The Tribune this statement about Junior Self:

The Life of Herndon Self Jr.

In loving memory of Herndon Self Jr. or “Junior” as he was known. 

Junior was born May 30, 1964, in Eunice, New Mexico and passed away on September 12, 2020. He was the youngest of nine children. As the baby of the family, he had a very special relationship with his mother, Edna Cagle, that he maintained throughout his life. Junior loved his mother with all of his heart. 

Growing up, most of Junior’s childhood was spent in the Shelton Grove community in Hanceville, AL. As a child, he was described as being a good kid and never turned down an extra milkshake. He had a special bond with each of his eight siblings and always found ways to entertain them. Junior’s talent for making others laugh was one of the most significant things about him. He was very charismatic and lived life to the fullest. He was never afraid to be himself. He was just Junior and everyone loved that about him. 

He thought a lot of all of his nieces and nephews and was known to get down on the floor and play with them. His grandchildren meant the world to him, and he often found new ways to build memories with them. He had the heart of a child and never took himself too seriously. He was always laughing and entertaining the family. Junior could do the best impersonations of his family members. He loved his family and always wanted to spend time with them and make memories. He was a son, father, grandfather, brother, and uncle. He filled many roles; he was a teacher in many ways. He taught his children how to be hard-workers, how to drive, and how to love their own children. 

He didn’t meet a stranger and could carry on a conversation and talk to anyone. Junior would also help anyone. He was very compassionate and would come to the aid of others, and this was true for his family members as well as strangers. Junior was very protective of those he loved and would do anything for them. On the exterior, he was tough and strong, but he was very tender-hearted and kind. 

Another special talent that added to Junior’s character was his talent for dancing and singing. He could carry a tune and was never afraid to sing loudly to his favorite songs. He lived loud and loved big. His presence was always known as his big personality filled the room. 

He was a hard worker and could do anything. Junior was a jack of all trades. He had so many friends, and if you ask anybody about him they would tell you the same thing we are telling you in this tribute to his life. Herndon Self Jr. definitely made an impact on everyone he met and he will be missed dearly by family, friends, and community members. He was truly loved. We love you, Junior!

Look for the family’s letter to the editor in Tuesday’s print edition of The Cullman Tribune.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com