State of Alabama Seeks to Execute Elderly, Incompetent Man Despite His Jury’s Verdict for Life


The State of Alabama plans to execute 65-year-old Vernon Madison by lethal injection on May 12th, even though his jury determined that life without parole was the appropriate punishment for him, and even though strokes and dementia have left him unable to remember the crime or rationally understand why the State seeks to execute him.

Vernon Madison was arrested in 1985 and charged with capital murder in the death of a Mobile police officer. His first two trials were reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found that prosecutors illegally removed African Americans from the jury because of their race at the first trial, and at the second trial, the prosecutor presented illegal evidence.

In 1994, following a third trial, Mr. Madison was convicted by a Mobile County jury that determined he should be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Mobile County Circuit Judge Ferrill McRae overrode the jury’s verdict and sentenced Mr. Madison to death.

Judge McRae has overridden six jury verdicts of life without parole – more than any other judge in Alabama. United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor cited Judge McRae in her dissent criticizing judicial override in Alabama, observing that he “campaigned by running several advertisements voicing his support for capital punishment” and boasting about specific cases in which he had imposed the death penalty. The dissent concluded that the only empirically supported reason why Alabama judges alone continue to override jury verdicts is one that “casts a cloud of illegitimacy over the criminal justice system: Alabama judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures.”

Alabama’s capital sentencing scheme has exactly the same defect that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional earlier this year in Hurst v. Florida. In that case, the Court struck down Florida’s capital sentencing statute because it allowed judges, rather than juries, to make the findings necessary to impose the death penalty.

Last week, the Supreme Court granted review in a case challenging Alabama’s death penalty scheme, vacated the death sentence, and remanded for reconsideration in light of Hurst.

EJI lawyers have asked the Alabama Supreme Court to stay Mr. Madison’s execution in order to give him an opportunity to challenge Alabama’s death penalty scheme and the override in his case in light of Hurst.

Mr. Madison’s attorneys also asked a federal court to stay his execution because he is incompetent to be executed. As a result of multiple strokes over the last year, and other serious medical conditions, Mr. Madison suffers from vascular dementia, which has left him unable to rationally understand why the State is seeking to execute him. Mr. Madison now speaks in a slurred manner, is legally blind, and can no longer walk independently as a consequence of damage to his brain.

It is unconstitutional to execute an individual who is mentally incompetent. Despite evidence that Mr. Madison is incompetent, a federal judge denied his request for a stay of execution late yesterday. Mr. Madison appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

UPDATE ON WEDNESDAY: On Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an order denying Mr. Madison’s Motion for Stay of Execution.

UPDATE ON THURSDAY: On Thursday morning, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order granting Vernon Madison’s Motion for a Stay of Execution.

The State of Alabama plans to execute Vernon Madison on May 12, even though his jury determined that life without parole was the appropriate punishment for him.