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Vernon Madison, one of the longest-tenured tenants on Alabama's death row, has cheated death again.
Seven hours before his scheduled date with death last year, an appellate court stayed his execution. A new U.S. Supreme Court case gave him a chance to challenge the constitutionality of the ultimate sentence.
Then last week, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said he was incompetent to be executed because strokes have left him unable to understand why he was sentenced to die.
"Mr. Madison may have been told that he is being executed because of the murder he committed, but he doesn't remember his capital offence, and according to his perception of reality he never committed murder," the federal appeals court said.
There could be another appeal, but Madison could also die of natural causes awaiting his fate. Because, as fate would have it, the Alabama Supreme Court denied his constitutional appeal two days after the federal appeals court ruling.
Madison has had three trials for the 1985 murder of officer Julius Schulte, who was responding to a domestic violence call. Madison crept up behind the officer and shot him in the back of the head.
He was first convicted and sentenced to death in 1985, then again in 1990 and finally in 1994. Each time the convictions were appealed, resulting in the multiple trials and convictions.
In his latest federal appeal, Madison's lawyers and expert witnesses said he had suffered a series of strokes that caused him memory loss. A neuropsychologist said he had vascular dementia and didn't remember killing anybody.
Won and Lost
The 11th Circuit decided Madison was incompetent, but a state appeal was also pending at the same time. His attorneys had argued that his death sentence was unconstitutional under Hurst v. Florida, which was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
In that case, the court ruled that only judges may decide whether to impose the death penalty. In Madison's last trial, a jury recommended life in prison but the judge sentenced him to death.
The Alabama Supreme Court denied his petition for review.