Lawyers tell court inmate is incompetent, can't be executed

AP News
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Posted: May 06, 2016 3:13 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Lawyers for an Alabama death row inmate have asked a federal court to stop his execution next week, saying that strokes and dementia have left him incompetent and unable to remember the murder he was convicted of committing or understand why he's about to be executed.

Sixty-five-year-old Vernon Madison is scheduled to get a lethal injection May 12 for the 1985 slaying of Mobile police officer Julius Schulte. Madison shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car after the officer had responded to a domestic dispute involving Madison, according to court filings.

Defense lawyers filed an emergency stay request Wednesday in Mobile federal court, arguing that Madison's brain had been ravaged by a recent stroke, and smaller ones before that.

"As a result of multiple strokes over the last year and other serious medical conditions, Vernon Madison suffers from a major vascular neurological disorder, or vascular dementia, which has resulted in significant memory impairment, a decline in cognitive functioning, and ultimately an inability to rationally understand the reason why the State is seeking to execute him," attorneys Jennae R. Swiergula and Angela L. Setzer wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prisoners should have a rationale understanding of their imminent execution. Defense lawyers wrote that Madison is in a, "small category of defendants for whom execution is inappropriate."

Madison's attorneys said he has an IQ of 72, doesn't independently remember the 1985 murder and speaks in a, "slurred manner, is legally blind, can no longer walk, and has urinary incontinence as a consequence of damage to his brain."

The request came a week after a Mobile circuit trial ruled that Madison was competent and had a rationale understanding of his upcoming execution.

Mobile Circuit Judge Robert H. Smith said that Madison has a rational understanding that he is going to be executed because of the murder he committed and a rational understanding that, "the state is seeking retribution and that he will die when is executed."

Experts presented diverging views of Madison's cognitive abilities during a competency hearing.

Defense neuropsychiatrist John R. Goff told the circuit court that Madison's IQ of 72 puts him at borderline range of intelligence and was a significant decline from his previous scores. Madison knew he was in prison for murder, but indicated that he did not believe he killed anyone and doesn't remember the name of the name of the man he was convicted of killing, Goff said.

An expert appointed by the Mobile circuit court came to a different conclusion, saying while "there's no question Mr. Madison had deteriorated a great deal," he was able to give details about the history of his case and talk about specific things.

The state has until Monday to file a response to the request to stay the execution.