WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the case of a man sentenced to death for killing an Alabama police officer but who lawyers say now can't remember the 1985 murder.
Vernon Madison, 67, had been scheduled to be executed in January, but the court stayed the execution the same day to consider whether to take the case. The U.S. Supreme Court has said death row prisoners must have "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why. The state and Madison's lawyers have disagreed over whether Madison has adequate understanding of his crime and looming punishment.
Madison's attorneys argue that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to understand his execution or remember killing Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a domestic disturbance call involving Madison.
"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," his lawyers wrote in January. "His mind and body are failing."
The state argued that a competency hearing showed that Madison understands.
"Here, while Madison claims to have no memory of Officer Schulte's murder, his own expert agreed that he understands that he was tried for that offense, that he is in prison and will be executed because of that offense and the finality of death if his sentence is carried out," state lawyers wrote.
Madison has twice been spared by the courts on the night of his scheduled execution.
In May 2016, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted him a last-minute stay. A divided U.S. Supreme Court, missing the vote of recently deceased Antonin Scalia, maintained the stay on a 4-4 vote. Months later, the circuit court ruled Madison incompetent. The Supreme Court overturned that decision, allowing the state of Alabama set a new execution date for January. Madison's attorneys appealed, and - in another dramatic turn - the Supreme Court agreed to stay the execution and hear Madison's case.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Monday that he was "puzzled" by the decision.
"I am puzzled and concerned by the Supreme Court's decision to grant cert in the Madison case because only a few months ago it unanimously reversed a previous U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision blocking Madison's execution. We will continue our effort to pursue execution of Mr. Madison's sentence," Marshall said.
Madison's case will likely be argued in the fall, and the court's decision to take the case means he is safe from execution at least until the case is decided.