North shore criminal defense attorney William Alford, who began his 50-year legal career under larger-than-life Orleans Parish District Attorney Jim Garrison, died Friday at 76.
Alford, a tall man with an imposing courtroom presence, worked as an assistant district attorney in six parishes during his long career and was formerly chief assistant district attorney in the 22nd Judicial District under Marion Farmer.
Farmer, a friend of Alford’s since their freshman year at LSU, said the 6-foot-6-inch Alford had a football scholarship and was a tight end for the freshman team before giving up football.
Both men got their law degrees from Tulane, and Farmer made him chief of trials during his term as DA for St. Tammany and Washington parishes in the early 1980s.
Alford went to work for Garrison right out law school and was among the three assistant district attorneys who in 1969 helped Garrison prosecute New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw for conspiracy in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The trial made headlines around the world, but after a month of testimony the jury acquitted Shaw after less than an hour of deliberation.
In St. Tammany Parish, Alford successfully prosecuted Robert Lee Willie, who was executed for the murder of Faith Hathaway, a case that was the focus of the film “Dead Men Walking.”
From prosecuting capital cases, Alford switched to defending them. Along with Kevin McNary, he was the capital-cases public defender in the 22nd Judicial District under John Simmons, according to John Lindner, who is now the district’s chief public defender.
Buddy Spell, who began practicing criminal law on the north shore in the mid-1990s, described Alford as a kind and gentle person, but a force to be reckoned with in court.
“He had a big physical presence, but he was 10 feet tall as a trial lawyer,” Spell said. “He had an incredible courtroom voice. When he opened his mouth, he owned the courtroom.”
A native of Dixie, Alabama, Alford graduated from University Laboratory School in Baton Rouge and from LSU, where he was president of the Gamma Iota chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He received his law degree from Tulane in 1966.
He served at various times as an assistant attorney general, chairman of the Criminal Law Section of the Louisiana State Bar Association, special counsel to the Louisiana Judiciary Commission, member of the St. Tammany Parish Planning and Zoning Commissions and chairman of the Covington Housing Authority.
Alford had a farm in Robert where he raised beef cattle, Farmer said. That and fishing were among his outside interests.
Alford also loved to discuss politics and current events, according to his obituary, and he sported a “Democrat and Proud” bumper sticker on his pickup in the heavily Republican parish.
Spell said Alford was a big fan of President Jimmy Carter, and when Spell ran across stories about the former president, he knew he would have a topic of conversation that Alford would relish.
Survivors include his wife, Susan; four children, Toni A. Parker, W. Raley Alford III, Melissa Faber and John S. Alford; a sister, Judith A. Skipper; and eight grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at E.J. Fielding Funeral Home, 2260 W. 21st Ave., Covington. Private interment will follow at a later date.