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Supreme Court allows execution of man who cannot remember crime

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] unanimously concluded [decision, PDF] on Monday that Alabama may execute a death row inmate, Vernon Madison, who claims to be mentally incompetent and unfit to be executed under the Eighth Amendment [text] due to several strokes and vascular dementia.

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] granted [JURIST report] Madison a stay in 2016, and the Supreme Court upheld [text, PDF] the stay just hours before his scheduled execution.

In April 1985 in Mobile, Alabama, Madison shot [Reuters report] Julius Schulte, a police officer, twice in the back of the head at close range. Madison's attorneys claim that several recent strokes have impaired his memory and that he no longer remembers his 32-year-old crime.

In concluding that Alabama may move forward with the execution, the majority explained that the court's precedent has not

"'clearly established' that a prisoner is incompetent to be executed because of a failure to remember his commission of the crime, as distinct from a failure to rationally comprehend the concepts of crime and punishment as applied in his case. The state court did not unreasonably apply [Supreme Court precedents] when it determined that Madison is competent to be executed because—notwithstanding his memory loss—he recognizes that he will be put to death as punishment for the murder he was found to have committed."
The justices added that they "express no view on the merits of the underlying question."

In his separate concurring opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer highlighted the issue of the "unconscionably long periods of time that prisoners often spend on death row awaiting execution." Breyer argued the average time spent on death row is continually increasing, and he urged the court to "consider the ways in which lengthy periods of imprisonment between death sentence and execution can deepen the cruelty of the death penalty while at the same time undermining its penological rationale."

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