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Death-Row Inmate Spared Because of Dementia

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Vernon Madison will not die by execution. Not for now.

The U.S. Supreme Court spared him in Madison v. Alabama, sending his case back to state court to decide whether he understands why he is being executed. According to his lawyers, Madison's dementia is so bad he can't find the toilet in his own cell.

It's cruel and unusual punishment to execute people who are incompetent because they are insane, delusional, or psychotic. An Alabama court will decide if that should include Madison.

Long Road

It's been a long road for the 68-year-old Madison, who was convicted of murdering a police officer nearly 35 years ago. He was tried three times and appealed more, including a previous appearance in the Supreme Court.

In 2017, Madison's lawyers argued that he could not remember his crime. The Supreme Court said then that the defendant could be executed because he recognized he would be "put to death as punishment for the murder he was found to have committed."

But another question came back to the High Court this time. Does it violate the Eighth Amendment to execute a prisoner who is suffering from severe dementia?

"Based on our review of the record, we can't be sure that the state court recognized that Madison's dementia might render him incompetent to be executed," Justice Elena Kagan said for the divided Court.

Divided Court

Chief Justice John Roberts voted against Madison in 2017, but this time joined the Justices who would have spared Madison then. They included Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas dissented. Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not vote because he joined the Court after arguments last year.

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