Death Row Inmate Could Be Spared Execution For A Very Unusual Reason

A death row inmate may be spared from execution because he has no memory of the crimes.

Vernon Madison has been on death row in Alabama for over 30 years after he was convicted in April 1985 of killing a police officer. He was due to be executed last month and was 30 minutes away from having the sentence carried out when the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay.

This week the court agreed to rule on whether executing the inmate, 67, would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment”. In the intervening years since his prosecution, he has suffered several strokes resulting in dementia. Madison’s lawyers at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) argue that in his current state he can no longer remember his crimes nor understand the link between the crimes and the punishment he’s been given.

The EJI urged the Supreme Court to take the case in order to clarify whether executing someone with dementia is constitutional.

Vernon Madison, 67. Alabama Department of Corrections.

Madison has been made blind by his strokes and has limited speech, as well as mobility problems, the Mirror reports

“It is undisputed that Mr. Madison suffers from vascular dementia as a result of multiple serious strokes in the last two years and no longer has a memory of the commission of the crime for which he is to be executed,” the EJI request states, as reported by

“[He] does not rationally understand why the State of Alabama is attempting to execute him,” they added in a further request.

The US Supreme Court previously ruled that executing prisoners who don’t understand what execution entails, or why they are to be executed, violates a ban on “cruel and unusual punishments”. This included people with severe mental illnesses and cognitive impairments.

In 2016, the US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that because of his memory loss he was no longer eligible for execution. However, this decision was overturned shortly thereafter. Though a defense expert found that Madison’s IQ was just 72, and he talks about going to live in Florida when he’s “released”, a lower court ruled that the Supreme Court had not set precedent that “a prisoner is incompetent to be executed because of a failure to remember his commission of the crime.”

The Supreme Court will now hear Madison’s case, and potentially clarify whether it is constitutional to execute someone who has no memory of their crimes through dementia or cognitive impairment.

Madison was convicted of killing police officer Julius Schulte in April 1985.

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