Alabama death row inmate asks court to halt his execution

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Lawyers for an Alabama death row inmate asked an appellate court Wednesday to halt his upcoming execution, saying strokes and dementia have rendered him mentally incompetent in the 30 years since he was convicted of killing a Mobile police officer.

Attorneys for Vernon Madison, 65, filed the stay request with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Madison is scheduled to get a lethal injection Thursday evening at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. A flurry of last-minute legal filings preceded what could be Alabama’s second execution of the year. As Madison’s lawyers argued he was no longer mentally competent, the state contended that issue had already been addressed by a lower court. The Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday also refused to stay the execution.

Madison was convicted in the 1985 killing of Mobile police officer Julius Schulte. Prosecutors said Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the head as Schulte sat in his police car after responding to a call about a domestic dispute involving Madison.

“Over the course of the past year, Mr. Madison has suffered from multiple strokes that have resulted in significant cognitive decline, suffers from a major vascular neurocognitive disorder, or vascular dementia, and does not rationally understand why the State of Alabama is attempting to execute him,” attorneys for Madison wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment to execute prisoners who lack a rational understanding that they are about to be executed and why.

Madison’s attorneys argued a lower court erred and did not fully consider the scope of his dementia when it ruled him competent. A defense expert found that Madison had an IQ of 72 and his attorneys said he is confused about the status of his case and has talked of going to live in Florida when he is released from prison.

The stay request came after an Alabama circuit judge ruled Madison was competent and a federal judge refused a stay.

The Alabama attorney general’s office asked the appellate court to let the execution go forward. In a filling to the 11th Circuit, the state argued the lower court properly applied the law when it determined Madison had a rational understanding of his impending death.

U.S. District Judge Kristi K. DuBose this week agreed with a lower court that Madison was competent and could be executed. DuBose cited testimony from a court-appointed expert that Madison could answer questions about his case, despite a decline in his health. She also noted Madison’s reported response that, “my lawyers are supposed to be handling that,” when the warden came to read him the death warrant.

The Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the execution. Madison’s attorneys had asked for a stay arguing that Alabama’s sentencing method is similar to Florida’s which was struck down. U.S. Supreme Court justices said Florida gave too much power to judges instead of juries. At Madison’s third trial, a jury recommended a life sentence for Madison, but a judge sentenced him to the death penalty. Previous juries had recommended the death penalty but those convictions were overturned on appeal.

“Because the very precedent upon which Alabama’s judicial override system is based has been overruled ….the underpinnings of Alabama’s death penalty sentencing scheme have been removed, Madison’s attorneys wrote.

Lawyers for the state have argued there are differences in Alabama’s capital conviction requirements and sentencing structure that make it legal.

If Madison is executed, he would be the second inmate put to death in Alabama this year after a lull of more than two years because of difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs and litigation over the death penalty.

Christopher Eugene Brooks was executed in January for the 1992 rape and beating death of 23-year-old Jo Deann Campbell.

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