District Attorney Michael O’Dell announced this week he plans to retiree after four decades representing DeKalb and Cherokee counties.
His office is up for re-election in November 2022. He said he intends to serve until the completion of his term in January 2023 because he has several major murder cases and serious child abuse cases he feels compelled to see prosecuted.
An employee of the DA’s office since 1981, O’Dell served as deputy district attorney when he was appointed in 1996 to replace retiring Richard Igou.
“I have been privileged to fight for you — the citizens of this Circuit — for nearly 41 years,” he announced at this week’s DeKalb County Republican Women's group meeting. He had agreed to run again if no other candidate stepped forward to seek the office, but at least two candidates announced intentions to qualify this week.
“There comes a season in our all lives when we must decide if it is time to ‘pass the torch’ to the next generation… that time has come for me. [Deciding] not to seek re-election for a fifth term… has been a bittersweet decision on my part... After this term has been completed, I will be saying goodbye to the greatest group of coworkers you could ever have. I love them all, they are like a second family. But after dealing with two bouts of cancer, and enduring the toll of nearly 41 years of dealing with so much pain and misery every day, I convinced my wife to let me come home — to spend precious time together, and with our beautiful children and grandchildren... and to travel while God continues to give us the health to do so.”
O’Dell was named District Attorney of the Year for 2014 and The Times-Journal’s Citizen of Influence in 2015. He was spotlighted in a 2018 issue of DeKalb Living magazine.
He manages five attorneys who handle as many as 2,500 felonies and between 5,000-10,000 misdemeanors between the two county offices. About 3,000 citizens have witnessed O’Dell conducting the 320 Grand Jury sessions. During his career, he successfully prosecuted more than 200 homicide cases and dozens of child abuse and sexual assault cases. Since taking the top job, his office has not lost a single homicide or child abuse case.
Reflecting many changes over the past 40 years, O’Dell had a hand in numerous things.
This includes co-founding the DeKalb County Children’s Advocacy Center in 1991 and a Cherokee County version in 1999, as well as the Ninth Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force in 1996, and Drug Courts of both DeKalb and Cherokee counties (in 1999 and 2004). He helped to create the Partnership for a Drug-Free DeKalb in 1999. Nearly every major piece of legislation in Alabama dealing with methamphetamine originated in the Ninth Circuit DA’s office, and he established the “Zerometh” campaign locally in 2009.
In 1981, he was instrumental in establishing the Alabama State Child Support Association, creating child support units in DA offices throughout the state. He strengthened the local unit with the creation of Project Fugitive in 2004. He established a child abuse review team for both counties in 1994 and Drug-Endangered Children program in 2004. He received the John Hulet Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 for his work on behalf of the children of Alabama and the establishment of the State Child Support Association.
He started worthless check units in both counties in 1984.
O’Dell served as president of the Alabama District Attorneys Association in 2005 and was elected in 2016 by the Alabama District Attorneys Association to serve as the state’s representative on the National District Attorneys Association Board of Directors.
He began the Domestic Violence Initiative in 2004 and Senior Citizens Fraud & Elder Abuse Unit in 2005. He has been an active supporter of Kelly’s Rainbow, the area domestic abuse shelter.
Appointed by Gov. Fob James, O’Dell was instrumental in the drafting and 2003 passage of the “Neelley Bill” providing that anyone convicted of a capital offense and sentenced to death, whose sentence is commuted by a governor, never becomes eligible for parole. He was also actively involved in the passage of the Brody Bill in 2006 granting personhood to unborn children.
On a statewide level, O’Dell has served on state boards and associations such as the Alabama Child Support Association; the Alabama State Children's Policy Council; the Alabama State Child Death Review team; the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center Commission; the state forensic advisory committee; and the Governor's Task Force on Juvenile Justice.
Along with District Attorney Charlie Rhodes and President David Campbell, he established the Northeast Alabama Community College Center for Applied Forensics, a drug testing facility on campus in 2015. He serves on the college’s advisory board and criminal justice advisory committee. He worked closely in the establishment of the Alabama Investigator Academy as it held its first session on February 23, 2021.
In his personal life, he and his wife of 47 years, Betsy, have raised three children and have six grandchildren. He is a charter member of Grace Presbyterian Church, PCA, where he has served as a deacon, elder, librarian, high school Sunday school teacher, and men's Bible study teacher. He credited his Christian faith with sustaining him for so long despite the challenges of the job.