Alabama prepares to execute man for killing police officer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama prepared to execute an inmate Thursday evening for the shooting death of a Mobile police officer as defense attorneys sought a last-minute reprieve from federal courts saying there were constitutional questions about his sentencing and mental competence.

Vernon Madison, 65, is scheduled to be put to death at 6 p.m. Thursday at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. Madison was convicted in the 1985 killing of Mobile police officer Julius Schulte. Prosecutors said Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the head as Schulte sat in his police car after responding to a call about a domestic dispute involving Madison.

His attorneys made a flurry of last-minute legal filings, seeking to halt the execution, argued a judge improperly rejected a jury’s recommendation of life imprisonment and Madison is mentally incompetent because of strokes and dementia and doesn’t have a rational understanding of what is about to happen to him. The state asked an appellate court to let the execution proceed arguing Schulte’s family and Mobile citizens have waited decades to see “justice carried out.”

Madison’s attorneys filed a stay request with the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday morning, arguing there are constitutional questions about Madison’s death sentence, since a judge rejected a jury’s 8-4 recommendation of life imprisonment. Madison’s attorneys had asked for a stay arguing that Alabama’s sentencing method is similar to Florida’s which was struck down. U.S. Supreme Court justices said Florida gave too much power to judges instead of juries.

“Vernon Madison is on death row as a result of judicial override. … This Court has recently signaled that there are serious questions about a death penalty scheme in which a judge is permitted to sentence a defendant to death despite a jury’s verdict of life,” EJI Director Bryan Stevenson wrote.

Lawyers for the state have argued there are differences in Alabama’s capital conviction requirements and sentencing structure that make it legal.

The appeal came after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the stay request from Madison.

Madison’s lawyers have also asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the execution on the grounds that he is incompetent because of strokes and dementia. They argued in court filings that he has an IQ of 72, does not independently recall facts of his case and has talked of moving to Florida because he believes he is going to be released from prison.

Attorneys for the state said a lower court, after a hearing, found Madison competent.

U.S. District Judge Kristi K. DuBose this week agreed with a lower court that Madison was competent and could be executed. DuBose cited testimony from a court-appointed expert that Madison could answer questions about his case, despite a decline in his health. She also noted Madison’s reported response that, “my lawyers are supposed to be handling that,” when the warden came to read him the death warrant.

The attorney general’s office asked the appellate court to let the execution proceed.

“Both the family of Julius Schulte and the citizens of Mobile, Alabama, who lost a dedicated law enforcement officer as a result of Madison’s crime, are entitled to see justice carried out in this case,” attorneys for the state wrote.

If Madison is executed, he would be the second inmate put to death in Alabama this year after a lull of more than two years because of difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs and litigation over the death penalty.

Christopher Eugene Brooks was executed in January for the 1992 rape and beating death of 23-year-old Jo Deann Campbell.