11th Circuit finds death row inmate incompetent to be executed
Posted on: 3/23/2017 02:04:15 PM by Peoples

The Eleventh Circuit ruled in Madison v. Commissioner, Ala. Dept. of Corrections, ___ F.3d ___ (11th Cir. March 15, 2017), that Vernon Madison is not competent to be executed and that the Alabama trial court's decision to the contrary relied on an unreasonable determination of the facts and involved an unreasonable application of the law. 

 At the state Ford hearing, Madison presented unrebutted testimony from Dr. John Goff that a series of strokes suffered by Madison caused major vascular disorder (also known as vascular dementia) and related memory impairments.  As a result, Madison has no memory of committing the murder—the act that is the reason for his execution-- and does not believe he ever killed anyone. Dr. Goff testified that due to his memory impairments, Madison does not have a rational understanding of why the state is seeking to execute him. The State presented expert testimony from Dr. Karl Kirkland who found that Madison was able to accurately discuss his legal appeals and legal theories with his attorneys.  Dr. Kirkland concluded that Madison has "a rational understanding of [his] sentence."

A majority of the Eleventh Circuit panel found that Dr. Kirkland's testimony was insufficient to support the trial court's finding that Madison was competent to be executed.  Indeed, the majority concluded that Dr. Kirkland failed to conduct the competency inquiry mandated by the Supreme Court.  That Madison understood that he had been sentenced to death did not show that he understood that the death sentence meant he would be put to death because of the crime he committed.  The majority further found that the state court unreasonably applied Panetti by failing to consider the impact of Madison's memory loss or his belief that he never killed anyone on his ability to make the required connection between his crime and his execution.

Because the state court judgment was not entitled to deference, the majority reviewed the claim de novo and found: "[T]he evidence shows that, due to his dementia and related memory impairments, Mr. Madison lacks a rational understanding of the link between his crime and his execution. Mr. Madison may have been told that he is being executed because of the murder he committed, but he doesn't remember his capital offense, and according to his perception of reality he never committed murder. This record is without evidence that Mr. Madison is malingering, and there is no finding by the trial court to that effect. A person does not rationally understand his punishment if he is simply blindly accepting what he has been told."