Court stays execution of inmate with dementia
WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court ordered Wednesday a hearing to determine whether a death row inmate with dementia is competent enough to understand why the state of Alabama wants to execute him.
The case involves Vernon Madison, who was convicted of killing a police officer in 1985.
The court ruled 5-3 that a psychological evaluation of Madison, who was supposed to have been put to death last year, had not been thorough enough to carry out the sentence without fear of violating a constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.
The judges ordered a state court in Alabama to evaluate Madison again.
Madison, who is in his 60s, was convicted in 1994, and while in prison suffered strokes in 2015 and 2016 that severely diminished his mental faculties.
His lawyers say he is now practically blind, cannot walk on his own and suffers from urinary incontinence. They say he does not remember the crime or his trial.
The court has previously ruled that people who cannot understand why they are to be executed due to schizophrenia and psychosis may not be executed.
Madison’s lawyers pressed the court to expand this exception to include people with dementia and on Wednesday the court agreed.
The majority wrote that this condition in a prisoner may in fact “impede the requisite comprehension of his punishment.”
The court ruled that a psychiatric evaluation of Madison carried out in Alabama in 2016 concluded he was not delusional but failed to take into account his dementia. So state authorities could not guarantee that Madison understood why he was to be put to death, the court said.
The decision will affect other aging death row inmates, too. As of 2011, around 100 people on death row in America were over age 65.