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."