Alabama death row inmate Vernon Madison has a date with the executioner Thursday night. Unless a stay of execution or re-sentencing happens at the last minute, the convicted killer will die by lethal injection at 6 p.m.
Madison, now 65-years-old, was convicted of the 1985 killing of Mobile, Alabama police Cpl. Julius Schulte. So far, every appeal to both state and federal judges have been rejected.
Known as “Sonny,” Schulte had been with the Mobile Police Department for more than 20 years when he responded to a domestic violence call on April 18, 1985. When the officer arrived, he found Madison in a rage. Trying to calm the situation, Schulte told Madison to leave and “cool down.”
Madison, who was on parole at the time, cooperated at first and left the residence. However, a short time later he returned with a handgun and shot the veteran cop twice in the head. Madison also shot his then-girlfriend, but she survived.
Madison was quickly arrested and charged with the killing after investigators found the pistol used in the shooting inside his car. He went to trial later that year.
Madison was found guilty and sentenced to death, but an appeals court ruled there was raced-based bias involved during jury selection. In a 1990 retrial, he was convicted again and the jury recommended capital punishment for a second time. Yet, due to improper testimony from a witness, the case was once more referred back for another trial.
Madison was tried for a third time in 1994. He was again convicted, but the jury recommended a life sentence this time. However, the judge overruled the jury’s suggestion and sentenced the cop-killer to death.
Montgomery-based law firm Equal Justice Initiative is currently representing the prisoner. The firm is a nonprofit organization that takes cases on behalf of poor and disadvantaged individuals.
Madison’s legal counsel contends the inmate should not be executed because the jury in the 1994 case recommended a life sentence, but the judge chose to change the sentence to death. Additionally, the inmate has suffered several strokes and has been diagnosed with dementia, which attorneys say makes him unable to comprehend why he is being executed.
In May of last year, Madison had a stroke and then another one in January. Both strokes have caused memory loss and slurred speech, as well as partial blindness.
“Over the course of the past year, Mr. Madison has suffered from multiple strokes that have resulted in significant cognitive decline, suffers from a major vascular neurocognitive disorder, or vascular dementia, and does not rationally understand why the State of Alabama is attempting to execute him,” the attorneys wrote.
Despite a possible mental impairment, the state’s attorney general’s office argued Madison does understand why he is being executed. Based on testimony from expert witnesses, the inmate does not suffer from any mental defect that would cause him to misunderstand what is happening.
Circuit Court Judge Robert Smith ruled that Madison’s attorneys had not proven he is incompetent and the execution should move forward. During the hearing, the judge did note that it was hard to determine if Madison was following the proceedings as the inmate appeared physically ill and did not speak.
Madison’s lawyers took their case to a higher court, but U.S. District Judge Kristi K. DuBose agreed with Smith’s ruling. DuBose did not believe the defense claims that the lower court judge did not consider the prisoner’s mental illness.
In a separate petition, the Alabama Supreme Court denied a stay of execution on Wednesday. The request was made by Madison’s attorneys based on recent U.S. Supreme Court cases questioning the constitutionality of the “use of judicial override in Alabama.”
After spending over 30 years at Holman Correctional Facility, Vernon Madison will be the 58th death row inmate executed in Alabama since 1983 and the second this year. In January, the state put Christopher Brooks to death after a two-year pause in executions.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]