Supreme Court Blocks Relief for Alabama Death Row Inmate Vernon Madison


Last week the United States Supreme Court overturned a decision by a federal court that had barred the execution of Vernon Madison.

Mr. Madison has spent over 30 years on Alabama’s death row, suffered several strokes, and now has dementia and cannot remember his crime.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled earlier that because Mr. Madison has dementia and is in fragile medical condition, is legally blind, speaks in a slurred manner, and cannot walk without assistance as a result of multiple strokes, he is incompetent to be executed.

The State appealed that ruling and the Supreme Court reversed, writing that the lower federal court did not have the authority under governing federal law to grant relief on the kind of legal issue posed by Mr. Madison’s case.  The Court concluded that the law is unsettled about what the Eighth Amendment requires under these circumstances.

While the Supreme Court did not rule that Mr. Madison is competent to be executed, the State of Alabama immediately filed a new motion last week requesting to execute Mr. Madison. EJI has filed a response and will oppose the effort to schedule an execution.

Mr. Madison was sentenced to death in the 1980s for the shooting death of a police officer in Mobile, Alabama.

His first two trials were reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. At the first trial, prosecutors illegally removed African Americans from the jury because of their race, 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. Earlier this year, the Alabama Legislature abolished judge override of jury verdicts in death penalty cases, but the law has not been applied retroactively to cases like Mr. Madison’s.

EJI will file a motion this week asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.