Justice for Junior: Family, friends gather to remember murder victim, call for change to early release law

Angela Harris, mother of kidnapping/murder victim Aniah Blanchard, addresses the group gathered to remember Junior Self Saturday night in Cullman County. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

BREMEN, Ala. – On Saturday evening, family and friends of Herndon “Junior” Self gathered at Rooster’s Corner in Bremen to remember the murder victim and call for changes to the 2015 mandatory release law that set his accused killer free two days before the stabbing that took Self’s life. 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.

Nicholas Self, son of Junior Self, told The Tribune, “We’re trying to bring awareness to my dad, but we’re also trying to bring awareness to the state; there’s stuff that needs to be changed. Our system needs to be better, because it don’t just affect our family. There’s more families that’s been affected by the laws. We’re just trying to make a change to make everybody else safer. We don’t want to do away with the law, but we want the law to change. We want it to be better. I know we’ve got to get with certain people and try to get more steps to get involved in it a little bit more.”

Self said that members of the family have reached out to Rep. Corey Harbison, R-Good Hope, and they hope to talk to other members of Cullman County’s legislative delegation.

Said Self, “Maybe this’ll get some more attention to where we can go further with it, and maybe they’ll be willing to help us and let us help them.”

Self remembered his father as a man with “a big heart,” sharing, “He would do anything to help anybody. He loved his kids, and he loved his family. He spent most of his time with his family, you know, he was always with them. My daddy, he’d trust people a lot, and in this case, this is how that accident happened. He trusted somebody he knew, and he thought with them he would be safe. It never crossed his mind anything like that would happen.

“But as far as a person, he was kind. You know, he was hard when he needed to be hard; he was just there. He was a good dad, a good brother, a good son- just a good person all around- and always wanting to help somebody. Not many people nowadays would stop on the side of the road to help somebody, and he would, and that’s just the way that he was. That was just Daddy being Daddy. He was willing to lend a helping hand. 

“He always cared. He was always there for me and my brother. I have a baby brother; he was always there for both of us. If you called him, he’d come. He worked hard to provide for everyone he needed to provide for.”

Murder victim’s mother talks about proposed law

Self’s family has found an ally in Angela Harris, the mother of kidnapping/murder victim Aniah Blanchard, whose accused killer was, according to Harris, out on bond for multiple attempted murder and kidnapping charges at the time. Harris came to Rooster’s Corner to participate in the vigil and talk about “Aniah’s Law” a proposed act that could change the way bail bonds are given to people accused of violent crimes or who have a history of violence.

Said Harris, “This person should not have been out of jail, period. And just to let you know, he was let out less than 24 hours after he beat a man almost to death- a 70 year-old man fighting for his life- they let him out on bond.

“So I knew when I found out about the suspect and what his history was, I knew then- before I even knew where my child was, because we were still looking for her- I knew that I was going to change some laws. I knew something had to be done. This is not right; this cannot happen. I was in shock that this is happening.”

After Blanchard’s remains were located, Harris said, she heard from a state representative who informed her about a bill that would tighten the restrictions on bonds for people who are charged with a violent crime and have a history of violence or are considered a threat to themselves or others. The representative asked permission to name the law, if passed, for her daughter.

Said Harris, “This is something that we need. People that are out here in Alabama committing violent crimes, not capital murder, but they’re murdering and they’re committing all these other violent crimes, then they’re just getting out on bond to go back and reoffend. That’s what we’re trying to prevent with Aniah’s Law- keep these violent criminals in jail where they need to be.”

The bill that would create Aniah’s Law was not presented in the 2020 Legislative Session due to the COVID-19 shutdown, but it could be presented in 2021. Harris encouraged the crowd to keep pushing for the reforms it hopes to see.

Harris also spoke about “Aniah’s Heart,” a nonprofit organization to promote personal safety and self-defense for young people.

“If the judicial system needs to be fixed, and these laws haven’t been passed and they’re not doing anything to keep us safe, what do we have to do? We need to keep ourselves safe, our families safe, our kids safe. We have to do that.”

After Harris, the floor was opened for friends and family members who came and shared personal memories of Junior Self, through laughter and tears, before the crowd went outside to conclude the event with a candle lighting and balloon release.

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Friends and family of Junior Self hold a candlelight vigil outside Rooster’s Corner Saturday evening. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

W.C. Mann