By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court put on hold Thursday's scheduled execution of a 65-year-old man convicted of murdering a police officer in 1985, ordering a review of his mental competency after his lawyers said he suffers from dementia.
Vernon Madison, one of Alabama's longest-serving death row inmates, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.
The stay of execution issued by Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put off what would have been the 15th execution in the United States this year and the second in Alabama.
The state then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and allow the execution to go forward. The court narrowly denied that request, though the four conservative justices would have granted the motion to lift the stay of execution, the order said.
Madison's lawyers said that as a result of multiple strokes over the past year and other complications, Madison suffers from a condition called vascular dementia that has left him unable to understand why Alabama is seeking to execute him.
"Mr. Madison now speaks in (a) slurred manner, is legally blind, and can no longer walk independently as a consequence of damage to his brain," they said in a statement.
"It is unconstitutional to execute an individual who is mentally incompetent."
A federal court had earlier rejected the argument that Madison was not mentally competent to be executed. The appellate court said it will hear arguments in the case on June 23.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the stay.
Madison was convicted in the fatal shooting of police officer Julius Schulte in Mobile, Alabama. He shot the officer, who was responding to a domestic call, in the head.
He faced three trials. Madison's convictions in the first two were overturned on appeal. In the third trial, he was convicted and the jury, in an 8-4 vote, recommended life in prison. The judge sentenced Madison to death.
State officials had wanted to proceed with the execution despite a May 2 U.S. Supreme Court order directing the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider death sentences in light of a Jan. 12 high court ruling striking down a similar statute in Florida.
The Supreme Court found that Florida's law had given judges powers that juries should wield in determining a defendant's eligibility for execution, violating the right to an impartial jury guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment.
(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Eric M. Johnson; Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Will Dunham and Nick Macfie)