COMMENTARY — Five days before Christmas in 1976, a beautiful, bright Birmingham-Southern coed named Quenette Shehane was going to a convenience store near her home close to the campus in Birmingham. She was making a trip to get salad dressing to go with the steaks she and her boyfriend were cooking at his fraternity house. Quenette never made it back. She was kidnapped from the store parking lot. Her body was found the next day.
After several years of anguish and justice system logjams, Quenette’s murderers were found and finally tried. One was executed nearly 14 years after the crime. Another was sentenced to life in prison and the third was also sentenced to life in prison but without the possibility of parole.
Even though this heinous crime received sensational publicity, without the determined efforts of Quenette’s mother, the culprits would probably still be walking around free today. She made it her mission to get justice for her daughter’s murder. She was relentless in her pursuit of justice. Today, thousands of Alabama families can and have received justice and peace of mind through the efforts of Quenette’s mother.
That mother is Miriam Shehane. She is the founder of Alabama’s renowned Victims of Crime and Leniency, better known throughout the state as VOCAL.
Shehane was a bank employee in the small town of Clio in Barbour County when her daughter was murdered. Quenette had grown up in this peaceful village in southern Alabama.
Shehane faced continuous legal hurdles in her quest to bring Quenette’s murderers to trial. Her frustration with the legal system caused her to become the greatest crusader for criminal justice in Alabama’s history. She left her job at the bank and became a full-time activist and advocate for victim’s rights.
Shehane founded VOCAL 30 years ago. Her tireless efforts have changed the criminal laws in our state. She said, “I can’t stand the thought of Quenette being forgotten. That is what has given me such drive.”
She began VOCAL in 1982. That was my first year as a young 30-year-old legislator. I represented Clio in the House of Representatives. Clio was also the birthplace of George Wallace, who was beginning the last of his four terms as governor.