The Open File has previously covered Vernon Madison’s case on two occasions, and we now provide this (overdue) update. In our last post about the case, we brought attention to an Eleventh Circuit decision that—temporarily, it turns out—spared Mr. Madison from execution due to his incompetence. Perhaps sensing the fragility of favorable federal habeas decisions, we observed that “[f]rom a legal perspective, it is somewhat remarkable that the 11th Circuit granted Mr. Madison relief. After all, federal law embeds seemingly endless deference to state courts’ decisions, and the trial court here somehow sided with the prosecutor.” Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Eleventh Circuit in early November of 2017, confirming our suspicion that it is virtually impossible now for defendants to prevail in federal habeas cases. The U.S. Supreme Court decision paves the way for Mr. Madison’s execution. Alabama has set the date for January 25, 2018; last week, the Court denied Mr. Madison’s request for rehearing, removing what may have been the final potential hurdle to the State’s plan to kill him.
Beyond the compelling claim of incompetence, the case involves a “remarkable history of prosecutorial misconduct,” which we wrote about in May of 2016. That misconduct may soon be a mere footnote in a much larger and more troubling story about our criminal justice system’s profound inadequacies. As Mr. Madison’s execution date quickly approaches, we repeat a question we raised last year: “[W]hy d[oes] the State insist on pursuing Mr. Madison’s execution?” Justice Breyer described what has happened in the time Mr. Madison has been on death row: “[H]e has suffered severe strokes, which caused vascular dementia and numerous other significant physical and mental problems. He is legally blind. His speech is slurred. He cannot walk independently. He is incontinent. His disability leaves him without a memory of his commission of a capital offense.” Despite all of this, the prosecution will not relent.