Georgia to go forward with first execution in more than 4 years after parole board denies clemency

The Georgia Parole Board denied clemency for inmate Willie James Pye on Tuesday, making him soon to be the first inmate executed in the state since 2020. Pye was convicted and sentenced to death in 1996 after the murder of Alicia Lynn Yarbough, with whom he was involved in a relationship.

During the clemency meeting conducted by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole, Pye’s lawyers relied on his intellectual disability and troubled upbringing. Similarly, in a court filing earlier last year, Pye’s lawyers argued that he had an intellectual disability and that the execution of a person with an intellectual disability violates the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment protects individuals from “cruel and unusual punishments.” Citing the US Supreme Court case Atkins v. Virginia, Pye’s lawyers argue that the execution of an intellectually disabled individual constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” thus violating the Eighth Amendment.

The board wrote in s press release that, “[i]n Georgia, the Parole Board has the sole constitutional authority to grant clemency in a death penalty case.”

Johnny Mostiler, Pye’s court-appointed trial attorney, had been accused of ineffective representation and racial bias in several cases involving black defendants. In Pye’s case, Mostiler spent a limited amount of hours, whereas typically capital defense representation requires thousands of hours. In 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned Pye’s death sentence based on the failure of Mostiler to investigate all available evidence. However, following a state motion, the court reconvened and reinstated the death sentence, finding that Mostiler’s performance is to be deferred to the state according to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Pye’s execution is scheduled to take March 20 at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. The planned execution involves lethal injection using a sedative pentobarbital.

Georgia’s last execution took place in January 2020 by lethal injection at the state prison in Jackson. Donnie Cleveland Lance, a Georgia man, was convicted of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the state attorney general’s office agreed¬†with attorneys in April 2021 to suspend certain prisoners’ executions.