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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Judge rules that Alabama death row inmate is competent to be executed May 12

An Alabama circuit court judge has denied a request to suspend the May 12 execution date of Vernon Madison, who has been on the state's death row for 31 years.

Madison was convicted in September 1985 and sentenced to death in Mobile County in the April 18, 1985, slaying of police Officer Julius Schulte, who was responding to a domestic disturbance call. Madison was on parole at the time.

At a competency hearing April 14, testimony was offered by Dr. Karl Kirkland, a court-appointed clinical and forensic psychologist; Dr. John Goff, a psychologist hired by Madison's attorneys; and Carter Davenport, the warden at W.C. Holman Correctional Facility.

Madison's attorneys argued that several strokes had caused such significant mental decline that he no longer understood why the state intended to execute him. His attorneys from the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative are seeking a stay of execution.

Julius SchulteCorporal Julius Schulte was a 22-year veteran of the Mobile Police Department when he was shot and killed April 18, 1985, while responding to a domestic violence call.

Madison had a stroke in May 2015 and another in January of this year, causing memory loss and slurred speech, making it difficult for him to move and rendering him legally blind.

Goff testified that, consequently, he has retrograde amnesia and dementia, and his IQ has declined significantly to 72 from previous scores.

The state attorney general's office argues that, based on the testimony of both Goff and Kirkland, Madison does understand why the state is moving to execute him. They say the testimony shows that Madison does not suffer from psychosis or delusions, and no mental illness or defect would cause him to lack an understanding of reality.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Robert Smith issued a ruling Friday saying that, based on the testimony and arguments, Madison and his attorneys have not proven that he is not competent to be executed.

Smith wrote in the order that Madison has a rational understanding that "he is going to be executed because of the murder he committed and... that the state is seeking retribution and that he will die when he is executed."

The judge noted that, during the competency hearing, Madison did not testify, and it was "difficult to tell" if he was following the testimony. Smith wrote that he appeared physically ill, confined to a wheelchair and wearing a neck brace.

Madison, who has been on death row since Nov. 12, 1985, is one of Alabama's longest-serving death row inmates.

He had 3 trials, the last one in 1994. State appellate courts twice had sent the case back to Mobile County, once for a violation based on race-based jury selection and once based on improper testimony for an expert witness for the prosecution.

Over the years since, he has filed numerous state and federal appeals that have been denied, including denials by the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

The Alabama Supreme Court in January issued an order setting May 12 as the date for execution. Madison was one of three death row inmates for which the Alabama Attorney General's Office had requested the court in February to set execution dates.

The inmates are being held on death row at Holman Correctional Facility at Atmore where the executions take place.

Source: al.com, May 4, 2006

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