MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama cannot execute a 66-year-old inmate with stroke-induced dementia because he doesn't understand his death sentence or remember the killing, an appellate court ruled Wednesday.
Citing testimony from a competency hearing, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Vernon Madison is incompetent to be executed.
"Mr. Madison may have been told that he is being executed because of the murder he committed, but he doesn't remember his capital offense, and according to his perception of reality he never committed murder," judges wrote in the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it is a violation of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment to execute someone who doesn't have a rational understanding of their death sentence.
Madison was convicted in the 1985 killing of Mobile Police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a domestic call involving Madison. Prosecutors said Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.
Attorneys from the Equal Justice Initiative who are representing Madison argued that his health declined during his decades on death row, and that multiple strokes and dementia have left him frequently confused and disoriented, with an IQ of 72.
The appellate court in May halted Madison's execution seven hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection. A divided U.S. Supreme Court maintained the stay.
The court heard oral arguments in Madison's case in June.
The state had argued that Madison's health declines had not affected his ability to understand his punishment.
Alabama Deputy Solicitor General Brett Talley told the appellate court that a court-appointed expert found Madison was able to remember very specific details from throughout his life, which Talley said strains the credibility of assertions that he doesn't remember the crime.