Mobile capital murder defendant accepts plea bargain, gets life sentence

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 6:13 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A capital murder defendant on Tuesday accepted a plea bargain, admitting to intentional murder.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Ben Brooks sentenced Greg O’Neal Hackett, 34, of Mobile, to life in prison. Unlike capital murder, the intentional murder conviction gives the defendant a chance for parole. But he will have to serve at least 15 years before his first shot at early release.

Hackett, who has three prior felony convictions, admitted that he shot 89-year-old John Higby in the Dauphin Square Shopping Center parking lot and took his keys. Mobile County District Attorney Keith Blackwood told FOX10 News that the defendant was panhandling at the time.

Defense attorney Jeff Deen said the seemingly inexplicable crime was the result of mental illness that has its roots in Hackett’s adolescence when he went to Boston at age 19 to play basketball.

“Now he’s riding around the streets of Boston naked on a bicycle,” he said outside the courtroom. “We think he had schizophrenia way back then, banging his head into walls, trying to get the devil out. And I mean, this Mr. (Higby), the deceased, fine gentleman, comes from a great family; no sense to it. But overall, this was the best disposition, I think, going both ways.”

Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty in this case. But Blackwood said prosecutors agreed to the lesser offense after reviewing the psychiatric records.

“After speaking with the family and going through all of the evidence, all of the history of the defendant and psychological problems, we had him plead guilty to intentional murder,” he said.

Blackwood said the competency issues raised by the defendant’s mental health history contributed to the long period of time between the offense and Tuesday’s plea hearing.

“That’s certainly a long time,’ he said. “You know, we have a handful of cases that have gone on that long. We are working through the backlog of cases that we do have. … We’re, you know, very hopeful that cases in the future, even ones as complicated as this won’t take so long to get to trial or to pleas.”

Given a chance to speak, Hackett apologized to the family.

“He just wanted a place where he could sit and be able to visit with his mother, and she’s a very nice lady,” Deen said. “She wanted to be able to see her son.”

As for the possibility of parole, Blackwood said: “We will, of course, protest that when the time comes.”