Open Letter to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles on Chris Revis

Dear Honorable Board Members:

I write on behalf of my former client, Christopher “Chris” Revis, whose case is scheduled for consideration before the Board on October 1, 2021. Chris is serving a sentence of life with the possibility of parole at Ventress Correctional Facility for the murder of Gerald “Jerry” Stidham, a well-known dealer of prescription pain pills in Marion County, on February 22, 2004. I represented Chris as an Assistant Federal Defender in the capital habeas unit of the Federal Defenders for the Middle District of Alabama between 2012 and 2015.

I request the Board parole “Chris” Revis for the following reasons:

1) Chris Revis, now 43 years-old, incarcerated for the past 17 years, was born poor into a hotbed of domestic violence, neglect, and substance abuse on January 2, 1978, in Red Bay, Alabama. His teenage parents, the late Virginia “Jenny” Revis (who died tragically in the devastating tornadoes that struck Marion County in 2011) and Dewayne Revis, were addiction-riddled and ill-equipped to parent during the entirety of Chris’s, and his younger brother (and co-defendant) Jason Revis’s, turbulent, itinerant childhood. The Revis parents moved frequently in search of work, pulling Chris and Jason out of school often. Dewayne Revis worked as a logger and truck driver in a variety of locales including Florida, Mississippi, Iowa, Alabama, and Wisconsin. As a result, Chris was constantly uprooted as a child and was never provided an opportunity to enjoy a stable home and school life, particularly when coupled with his parents’ domestic violence and substance abuse problems.

2) By all accounts, Chris’s parents had an extremely volatile relationship throughout the duration of their marriage continuing even after their divorce in 1988 to the time of Jenny’s premature death in 2011. It was a relationship marked by shared substance abuse problems, mental illness, economic difficulties, and repeated incidents of domestic violence, including physical and verbal abuse that occurred in front of and on some occasions was even directed toward Chris and his younger brother Jason. (Affidavit of Willie Ann Ables, Chris’s maternal grandmother: “Dewayne turned out to be abusive . . . in his marriage to Jenny, and in his parenting of Chris and Jason . . . I could often hear Dewayne and Jenny fighting in the trailer from my house. When Dewayne would go on these rants, which would be at least once or twice a week, or even more, he would be physically abusive. He often hit Jenny right in front of Chris and his younger brother Jason. Every now and then, Dewayne would also hit Chris and Jason too, but mostly he hit Jenny. Jenny would often have black eyes and bloody lips from being hit by Dewayne.”)

3) The police were often called to Chris’s childhood home, and Dewayne was frequently arrested for domestic violence and alcohol-related offenses. On one occasion, Chris’s father was so intoxicated he insisted that the arresting officers wait for him to finish his beer before taking him to jail—after what can only be described as a rather typical night of abuse at the Revis household, during which Dewayne Revis would terrorize his family. Chris and Jason were often in the home when officers were called to deal with Dewayne’s rampages. Police reports from Wisconsin document one occasion when Dewayne was physically abusing both Chris’s mother and Jason—who was just 13 years old at the time. When an officer entered the Revis family home, he found Jenny Revis on the couch crying. She and Jason told the officer that Dewayne had called Jenny a “bitch,” grabbed Jason from his seat on the couch, hit him in the face, and pushed him against a dresser multiple times. Dewayne constantly told Chris and Jason that they were “worthless” and would never amount to anything. A former girlfriend of Chris’s, who grew up near the Revis family, reported that, as a child, she often saw Chris’s father beating Chris, Jason, and Jenny. Yet another childhood friend of Chris told my investigator at the Federal Defenders that he remembered a two-week stretch one summer, when he was young, when Dewayne Revis was arrested every night; the same friend remembered one evening when Chris ran over to his house because his father had just stabbed his mother. Although the Revis family moved frequently, records show at least seven contacts with Dewayne Revis and a single police station between 1994-97—one time for picking Chris’s mother up by the neck, pushing and choking her, resulting in scratching and bruising—when Chris was still a minor and living with his father.

4) Chris’s late mother, his father, and numerous of his other relatives—going back generations—suffered from a history of chronic substance abuse problems in addition to mental instability characterized by severe anxiety and depression. Chris’s own use of prescription pain pills began as a fifteen-year-old with members of his football team when he was prescribed pain pills by a local doctor for injuries suffered playing high school football in Hackleburg. Revis would continue to be over-prescribed pain medication into young adulthood due to herniated discs in his back, and other work-related injuries incurred doing manual labor after high school.

5) Chris’s high degree of vulnerability to prescription pain pill abuse, in concert with numerous environmental factors beyond his control, provide for an extremely powerful mitigation case that put the crime—the killing of a local prescription pain pill dealer—in much greater context. Chris’s judgment and thinking were significantly impaired at the time of the crime, due to both his chronic drug addiction and, from numerous head injuries suffered throughout his life amounting to traumatic brain injury. In records that are part of the court file, Dr. Jonathan Lipman, a neuropsychopharmacologist, and Dr. Jethro Toomer, a clinical psychologist, whom I retained to evaluate Chris and review his case, have opined that traumatic brain injuries and severe opiate addiction seriously compromised Chris’s judgment, impulsivity, and decision-making capabilities at the time the offense was committed. (Neuropsychopharmacology encompasses both the clinical and scientific study of physiological and psychological effects of drugs and how drugs affect human behavior, including the study of how drug dependence and addiction affect the human brain.) A multitude of witnesses and records exist in Alabama, Wisconsin, and Iowa that serve as compelling mitigating evidence on Chris’s behalf about his painful struggle being addicted to prescription pain pills, and his failed attempts to stop taking them. See, e.g., Affidavit of Greg Ables, Chris’s maternal uncle (“I knew that Chris had started to abuse hydrocodone too, and his mom, Jenny, once told me that Chris had tried to get off the drugs by going to see a doctor.”); Affidavit of Fabian Isom, close family friend (“Chris told me about how he was addicted to pills and how hard he was trying to get off of them, but he never could.”). Both Chris’s parents did drugs with him as a young adult, sometimes even supplying them to him, contributing to the development of Chris’s own severe drug addiction problems.

6) The State’s theory at trial, culled largely from the statements that the three Revises made to the police, was that Christopher Revis, Jason Revis, and their uncle, now-deceased Eddie Dean Revis, went to Gerald Stidham’s mobile home early in the morning of February 22, 2004, to rob him of his prescription pain medication. The State alleged that Christopher Revis entered the mobile home, and that, when the victim went to retrieve the drugs from his car, Christopher Revis returned to his own car where he armed himself with a .22 caliber rifle that belonged to Eddie Revis. Then, the State alleged Christopher Revis returned to Stidham’s mobile home and upon entering the door, immediately, and without provocation, opened fire on Stidham, who was sitting on his sofa. After the shooting, the State alleged that Eddie Revis, who had entered the house along with Jason Revis when the shooting began, slashed the victim’s throat with a knife, that Christopher Revis took the victim’s pills, and Jason Revis took the victim’s wallet containing $1,800 in cash. Thereafter, the wallet was burned and the money and pills were split up among the three men.

7) The State’s witnesses conceded that the victim had multiple firearms in his home, including a shotgun found under a nearby sofa, four to five feet from where the body was recovered (“There was another .22 rifle, and I’m thinking a high-powered rifle was in the back bedroom that particular night that we found . . . . We went back out a couple of days later and recovered a Mossberg .12-gauge shotgun that was under a love seat . . .”). The prosecutor also told the trial court during the first motions hearing in the case that, “[Revis] comes back out to the car and gets a rifle, goes back in, knows that—and this was correct—he knew that Jerry kept a shotgun under—under [his] couch. Jerry got up and moved. [Revis] thought he was going for his shotgun, and [Revis] shot him[.]” Not only was Stidham selling drugs to many people in Marion County, but at the same time he was also cooperating with the police, through Kenneth “Kenny” Hallmark, a relative of Stidham’s who was also a police officer with the Marion County Drug Task Force.

8) In addition to being well-known in Marion County that Stidham was a drug dealer, it was also well known, including by Chris Revis (who’d been threatened by Stidham over drug debts), that Stidham had numerous guns in his house, including a shotgun at the ready under his couch. (While interrogating Chris Revis, Investigator Kenneth Mays conceded: “Now I don’t know if it’s self-defense, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if you got there going to buy some pills from him like you normally did. Uh, you know, he could have pulled a gun. Hundred things could have happened and it went bad.”)

9) In this case, Chris Revis acted under the substantial domination of another person, Eddie Dean Revis—his uncle, who was charged as his co-defendant and later convicted at a separate trial of capital murder for slitting Mr. Stidham’s throat. Eddie was known to carry a knife on him at all times, and police reports from Wisconsin demonstrate that he carried it for many years before he used it on Mr. Stidham. Over the course of his life, and before the case involving Stidham, Eddie Revis had been found guilty of Second Degree Burglary and Second Degree Sexual Abuse. He had also been charged with Armed Robbery, Kidnapping and Domestic Violence, in addition to having been arrested numerous times for alcohol-related crimes such as DUI and Disorderly Conduct. By contrast, Chris Revis’s criminal history before the current case, even despite his tumultuous and miserable upbringing, never involved offenses causing injury to another person.

10) In their “Weekly Report from the Board Meeting at Holman Prison” on September 1, 2021, “Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty,” run by death row prisoners in Alabama, wrote: “We discussed the Guest Commentary in the Gadsden Times by Stephen Cooper written in 2016 [which references Chris Revis’s case], “Opioid addiction at root of many crimes,” which is once more topical as a U.S. Judge in the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy case ruled on Friday on the OxyContin maker’s request to approve its settlement of opioid-related litigation. We quote Cooper: ‘Opioid addicts overpopulate our nation’s prisons and death rows; more often than not, addiction was the root of their crimes.’ So our question is will those of us who were addicted receive a settlement at least in the form of sentence mitigation?”

11) Since I’ve known him, Chris has used his incarceration productively, trying hard to become a better man. Upon information and belief, Chris has incurred no serious disciplinary infractions the duration of his near-two-decades in prison. Chris is enrolled and taking classes in a trade school, and is frequently called upon to be a guest speaker at drug and alcohol treatment sessions; in July he received a certificate from the Alabama Department of Corrections demonstrating that he successfully completed an “8-week stimulant-matrix program.” Freed of his opioid addiction and with the benefits of maturity, Chris has shown the potential to succeed—to live honorably, cleanly, and crime-free—if paroled.

12) In 2019, I met face-to-face with Revis’s family members in Alabama, and was also in phone contact with his father and paternal grandmother in Wisconsin. Since then, and over the years I have remained in contact with Chris’s family, it has been made clear to me that: (1) they love Chris, and (2) if paroled, they would do everything they could to ensure Chris is supported and successful, and that he remains in compliance with his conditions of release.

Given the circumstances of the crime and its antecedents, seventeen years of incarceration is sufficient to accomplish the goals of the criminal justice system in this case. Respectfully and wholeheartedly, I urge this Honorable Board to parole Chris Revis, to give him a chance—a chance he’s never fairly had—to lead a productive and law-abiding life.


Stephen A. Cooper, Esq.

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.