Supreme Court Allows Execution of Alabama Inmate Who Cannot Remember His Crime

A court-appointed psychologist and one hired by Vernon Madison’s lawyers generally agreed that he understood what he was accused of and how the state planned to punish him, even though he could not remember the murder that sent him to death row.
Alabama Department of Corrections

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the execution of an Alabama inmate who, after several strokes, cannot remember the 1985 murder that sent him to death row.

The court’s opinion was unanimous, and there were no noted dissents. But three of the court’s more liberal justices filed concurring opinions saying the case presented a substantial legal question to which the court should return.

The inmate, Vernon Madison, was sentenced to death for killing Julius Schulte. In 2016, as Mr. Madison’s execution neared, he asked the state trial court to suspend his death sentence because he said could not remember what he had done.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Stephen G. Breyer described Mr. Madison’s current condition: “He is legally blind. His speech is slurred. He cannot walk independently. He is incontinent. His disability leaves him without a memory of his commission of a capital offense.”

A court-appointed psychologist and one hired by Mr. Madison’s lawyers generally agreed that he understood what he was accused of and how the state planned to punish him. But Mr. Madison’s psychologist found that Mr. Madison could not recall his crime and believed that he “never went around killing folks.”

A state trial judge allowed the execution to proceed, and a federal judge agreed. But a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, ruled that executing an inmate who could not remember what he had done would violate the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has barred the execution of people who lack a “rational understanding” of the reason they are to be put to death. The appeals court ruled that had Mr. Madison met that standard.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Adam Liptak