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Alabama death row inmate with dementia gets stay of execution

Alabama representatives prepare for the opening session in the house of representatives chambers March 3, 2015 at the State House in Montgomery, Ala. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)
Alabama representatives prepare for the opening session in the house of representatives chambers March 3, 2015 at the State House in Montgomery, Ala. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

ATMORE, Ala. – The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama inmate whose attorneys argue that dementia has left the 67-year-old unable to remember killing a police officer three decades ago.

Justices issued a stay Thursday night, the same evening Vernon Madison was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison. The court delayed the execution to consider whether to further review attorneys’ claims that strokes have left Madison mentally incompetent and that his sentence was unconstitutional.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Mobile police officer Julius Schulte. Schulte had responded to a call about a missing child made by Madison’s then-girlfriend. Prosecutors have said Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car filling out paperwork.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Friday that Madison was using “delay tactics” and the state “will continue to pursue the execution of his death sentence.”

“After prior rulings that Vernon Madison is competent to face execution for the murder of a Mobile police officer 32 years ago – a cold blooded crime for which there is no doubt he is guilty – it is disappointing that justice is again delayed for the victim’s family,” Marshall said.

Madison’s attorneys argued that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to remember killing Schulte or fully understand his looming execution. The Supreme Court has ruled that condemned inmates must have a “rational understanding” that they are about to be executed and why.

“We are thrilled that the court stopped this execution tonight. Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel,” attorney Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Thursday after the stay was granted.

Appeals courts have been divided over Madison’s case.

In 2016, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted Madison’s execution seven hours before he was scheduled for a lethal injection. The U.S. Supreme Court later opened the way for the execution to proceed.

The court, in an unsigned 2017 opinion, said testimony showed Madison “recognizes that he will be put to death as punishment for the murder he was found to have committed.”

Madison’s attorneys also have asked for a stay on the grounds that a judge sentenced him to death, even though a jury recommended life imprisonment. Alabama lawmakers in 2017 changed the law to no longer allow a judge to override a jury’s sentence recommendation in death penalty-eligible cases.

The Alabama attorney general’s office, in opposing the stay, said the 2017 legislation was not retroactive and did not affect Madison and other inmates already on death row.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were opposed to the stay, according to the order issued Thursday evening.


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