HBO’s Alabama Snake unpacks the terrifyingly bizarre case of Glenn Summerford, a preacher who forced his wife to stick her hand inside a box of snakes in 1991. Like the controversial Hillbilly Elegy, director Theo Love’s true-crime project partially focuses on Appalachian culture, in which snake handling in religious services used to be popular. So, what happened to Summerford? Nearly 30 years after his story caught media attention, the former snake-handling preacher continues to serve a 99-year prison sentence for attempted murder.
Let’s dive into a little bit of context. Summerford was a Pentecostal preacher who kept serpents in a shed on his property. His frenzied sermons took place at the Church of Jesus Christ With Signs Following near Scottsboro, AL,, and his services usually included speaking in tongues and handling snakes. According to his wife Darlene, he accused her of cheating on him and punished her by forcing her to stick her hand inside a box of poisonous snakes and suffer a bite — twice. She put her hand in the box on Friday, Oct. 4, 1991, then again the next day, even though he refused to get her medical treatment the first time.
Receiving medical attention just in the nick of time, Darlene survived this venomous encounter and unpacked her story in court. According to the Associated Press, here’s what Darlene told the jury: ″He took a pipe and hit the cages real hard so the snakes got real mad and then grabbed me by the hair and said he would push my face in if I didn’t stick my hand in there. He said I had to die because he wanted to marry another woman.”
A defense witness named Tammy Flippo testified that Darlene was bitten when she tried to kill her husband. Flippo said that she got Summerford drunk and tried to murder him with a snake that bit her instead. She denied having a relationship with Summerford, but the prosecution found another witness who said that Flippo stayed at his house for several nights.
After a trial that lasted two-and-a-half days, the jury convicted Summerford, 47 at the time, of attempted murder in February 1992. Because he had two prior felony convictions, Summerford received a 99-year sentence. He’s still serving his sentence, with an additional 30 years for second-degree escape after slipping away during a work detail. He was denied parole in June.