Georgia executes Willie James Pye for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in 1993

Photo of author


JACKSON, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia man convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend three decades ago was executed Wednesday night in the state prison. first execution in more than four years.

Willie James Pye, 59, received an injection of the sedative pentobarbital and was pronounced dead at 11:03 p.m. at Jackson State Prison. He was sentenced to death for his conviction in the November 1993 kidnapping, rape and shooting death of Alicia Lynn Yarbrough.

The director asked Pye if he wanted to say any last words, and he said no. When asked if she wanted a prayer said for him, she indicated yes. A clergy member then said a short prayer, asking God to help Pye experience some grace and mercy.

Pye remained virtually motionless as the drugs began to flow. He began to exhale rapid bursts of air about half a dozen times, causing his cheeks to expand and his lips to quiver each time. Then he stood still. Several minutes later, the director entered the death chamber and announced the time of death.

Pye’s lawyers filed belated appeals urging the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, but the justices unanimously refused to halt the execution. The defense team argued that the state had not met the conditions necessary to resume executions after the COVID-19 pandemic and reiterated arguments that Pye was ineligible for execution due to an intellectual disability. The State’s responses argued that the claims had been previously resolved by the courts and were unfounded. The last execution in Georgia took place in January 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic gained momentum.

Pye had had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Yarbrough, but at the time she was murdered, she was living with another man. Pye, Chester Adams and a 15-year-old boy had planned to rob that man and bought a gun before heading to a party in a nearby town, prosecutors said.

The trio left the party around midnight and headed to the house where Yarbrough lived, finding her alone with her baby. They broke into her home, stole a ring and necklace from Yarbrough and forced her to go with them, leaving her baby alone, prosecutors said.

The group drove to a motel, where they raped Yarbrough and then left the motel with her in the car, prosecutors said. They turned onto a dirt road and Pye ordered Yarbrough out of the car, made her lie face down and shot her three times, according to court documents.

Yarbrough’s body was found on November 17, 1993, just hours after his murder. Pye, Adams and the teen were quickly arrested. Pye and Adams denied knowing anything about Yarbrough’s death, but the teenager confessed and implicated the other two.

The teenager reached a plea deal with prosecutors and was the star witness at Pye’s trial. In June 1996, a jury found Pye guilty of murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and robbery, and sentenced him to death.

Pye’s lawyers had argued in court papers that prosecutors relied heavily on the teen’s testimony, but that he later gave inconsistent statements. Such statements, as well as Pye’s testimony during the trial, indicate that Yarbrough left the house voluntarily and went to the motel to exchange sex for drugs, attorneys said in court documents.

Lawyers representing Pye also wrote in previous court filings that their client grew up in extreme poverty in a home without indoor plumbing or enough food or clothing. Her childhood was characterized by neglect and abuse by family members who were often drunk, her attorneys wrote.

His lawyers also argued that Pye suffered brain damage to the frontal lobe, potentially caused by fetal alcohol syndrome, which impaired his ability to plan and control his impulses.

Pye’s attorneys had long argued in court that he should be resentenced because his trial attorney did not adequately prepare for the sentencing phase of his trial. His legal team argued that the original trial attorney did not sufficiently investigate his “life, background, physical and psychiatric health” to present mitigating evidence to the jury at sentencing.

A federal judge rejected those claims, but a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Pye’s attorneys in April 2021. The case was then reheard by the court federal appeals court en banc, which overturned the panel’s ruling in October 2022.

Pye’s co-defendant Adams, now 55, pleaded guilty in April 1997 to charges of malicious murder, kidnapping causing bodily harm, armed robbery, rape and aggravated sodomy. He received five consecutive life sentences and remains behind bars.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, 75 men and one woman have been executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Pye was the 54th inmate executed by lethal injection. There are currently 35 men and one woman on death row in Georgia.

Leave a comment