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Assistant DA Reo Kirkland Jr. dead at 60

By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
Friends and colleagues of Reo Kirkland Jr. are mourning the death of one of “the last great Southern lawyers.”
Kirkland, who was 60, died Wednesday evening at D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital. He was an assistant district attorney and chairman of the Escambia County Democratic Executive Committee.
Friends said he was an avid outdoorsman who kept rattlesnakes on the front porch of his boyhood home and once led the Alabama Wildlife Federation; a former state senator and Democratic party leader who cast a vote for his mother at the 1984 Democratic National Convention; and a passionate prosecutor who visited the grave of Stephanie King throughout his investigation into her murder.
Prickly but passionate, Kirkland was known as a “stern taskmaster,” Godwin said. But that side of his personality only showed his dedication to the law and to justice.
Sallie King saw the compassionate side of Kirkland when he helped prosecute her daughter’s murderer.
Kirkland’s attention to detail — even when she thought he wasn’t listening — helped bring a conviction, King said. But she will also remember his compassion toward her and her husband, a quality some people may not have seen in Kirkland.
Often, when King visited Stephanie’s grave, she saw Kirkland’s business card and knew he had been there. “He’d go sit there and try to clear his head,” King said.
A lifelong resident of Brewton, Kirkland graduated from T.R. Miller High School, Auburn University and Jones School of Law. He served two terms as state senator and was a delegator for the Alabama Wildlife Commission.
He was the son of Reo Kirkland Sr. and Martha Terry Kirkland, both of whom served as probate judge in Escambia County.
He is survived by a son, Reo Kirkland III, and a brother and sister.
The longtime chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee in Escambia County, Kirkland nominated his mother for president during Alabama’s roll call vote at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
Escambia County tax assessor Jim Hildreth, a friend since childhood, said Kirkland was instrumental in his run for the office.
But while he was passionate about politics, Kirkland’s biggest success may have come in the courtroom.
District Attorney Steve Billy said Kirkland was “one of the finest prosecutors in the state.”
Kirkland was always well prepared for every case, Billy said.
That professionalism about every case carried over into Kirkland’s courtroom demeanor, Godwin said.