By Mike Cason, The Associated Press
Aniah Blanchard’s family made another trip to the Alabama Capitol complex on Thursday, this time to commemorate the signing of a bill in Aniah’s name.
Aniah’s mother Angela Harris, stepfather Walt Harris, father Elijah Blanchard, and stepmother Yashiba Blanchard looked on as Gov. Kay Ivey ceremonially signed Aniah’s Law, legislation to give prosecutors and judges more authority to keep people charged with violent crimes locked up without bond.
Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old college student from Homewood, went missing in October 2019 and was found slain a month later. The man charged in her death had been released on bondafter being charged with several violent crimes.
Section 16 of the Alabama Constitution affirms the right to bail except for those charged with capital murder.
Aniah’s Law, by Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, would amend the constitution to add about a dozen more felony charges that could keep a person in jail without bond. Lawmakers approved the legislation this year and it will become law if voters approve the amendment in the November 2022 election.
The legislation was a two-bill package, the constitutional amendment and a companion bill spelling out how new restrictions on bail would work. Prosecutors would ask judges for a hearing to present evidence that an offender is too dangerous to be released on bail or is a flight risk. Judges could approve the request or deny it.
“This bill is going to save a lot of lives,” Angela Harris, Aniah’s mother, said today. “It’s very emotional, but it’s very exciting as well, that our daughter’s name and her life is going to mean something.
“Our daughter is gone because of this. But also this is an amazing thing that’s happening for our state. And it’s needed.
The law is so needed. Angela Harris had spoken about the bill before, starting last year when she and other members of the family began making trips to the State House to advocate for the legislation. Angela Harris and Elijah Blanchard, Aniah’s father, are from Winfield, where they grew up with Rep. Tracy Estes, R-Winfield.
The tragedy rekindled the friendships and helped spark the passing of the legislation. Estes began calling Angela Harris after Aniah was reported missing in October 2019.
“We talked every day,” Estes said after today’s bill signing. “Most of the time multiple times a day.”
While Aniah was still missing, Estes called Ivey’s office and asked the governor to offer a reward for information about her disappearance. The governor did that. Others pitched in and the reward amount grew.
Authorities found Aniah’s body in rural Macon County in November 2019, about a month after her disappearance. She had died from a gunshot.
In December 2019, Ibraheem Yazeed was charged with capital murder. Prosecutors said Yazeed abducted Blanchard from a convenience store in Auburn. Yazeed had a history of arrests for violent crimes. At the time of his arrest in Blanchard’s case, Yazeed was out on $280,000 bond on two counts of kidnapping, two counts of robbery and one count of attempted murder in January 2019 incident in Montgomery.
“He’s someone that shouldn’t have been back on the street,” Brown, the bill’s sponsor, said.
Aniah’s death did not give Brown the idea about the legislation. He first introduced the bill in 2019 before Aniah’s disappearance because of discussions with police officials in Mobile about the need for bail restrictions. His bill did not pass that first year.
After Aniah’s death, Estes remembered the bill.
“I called him and said I believe this is a perfect fit,” Estes said. “What you’re trying to do could have prevented what happened to this girl potentially.”
Estes said he called Angela Harris and asked if she would help advocate for the bill. In January 2020, Angela Harris stood in front of lawmakers at a State House press conference and said she would champion the bill on Aniah’s behalf. Aniah’s father and step-parents also made appearances at the State House.
Elijah Blanchard spoke with reporters today at the Capitol.
“It makes me feel good to know that my daughter, even though she’s no longer with us, she’s able to affect other people’s lives and able to help other children and other children’s parents from having to go through the tragedy that the Blanchard family and the Harris family has gone through the last couple of years,” he said. “It brings joy to my heart that the state saw fit and saw the need for a bill such as this to keep those criminals with these crimes from being out on the street so they can’t hurt anybody else’s children.