Georgia prepares to execute death row inmate Willie Pye, whose lawyers say he has an intellectual disability

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Georgia Department of Corrections/Reuters

Willie James Pye, a death row inmate at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, poses for a Georgia Department of Corrections photograph on an unspecified date.


As Georgia plans to carry out its first execution in more than four years on Wednesday, lawyers for the convicted inmate argue he should be spared because of an intellectual disability and a troubled upbringing, evidence of which was never heard by his jury at trial.

In fact, three of Willie Pye’s jurors now oppose his execution, citing factors in the inmate’s background that were not presented by what his clemency petition claims was an ineffective and overworked public defender. . That petition asked the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant a 90-day stay of execution to review Pye’s case and commute his sentence to life in prison.

The parole board, however, was not convinced: After meeting Tuesday and “carefully considering all of the facts and circumstances of the case,” the board denied clemency, according to a news release.

Pye still has pending litigation that could potentially halt his execution, records show. It is not uncommon for death row inmates to make efforts to avoid execution up to the last minute before being executed, some of which reach all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yes Pye execution by lethal injection Proceeding as planned Wednesday night, it would be the first in Georgia since January 2020. according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization. Executions there were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the American Bar Association. has said.

Pye, 59, was convicted of malicious murder, kidnapping causing bodily harm, armed robbery, burglary and rape and sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of Alicia Lynn Yarbrough, with whom he had an affair. on-again, off-again romantic relationship, according to court records.

Pye’s clemency petition instead advocates for a life sentence, pointing in part to the ineffective assistance of his trial attorney, who died in 2000. At the time, that attorney “was responsible for all defense services for indigent” for Spalding County, Georgia, through a contract for which he was paid a lump sum, the petition says.

With the help of another lawyer and an investigator, Pye’s attorney was responsible for hundreds of felony cases at one time, in addition to his private practice, the petition says. When he represented Pye, the attorney also represented defendants in four other capital cases. As a result, the attorney “effectively abandoned his position.”

Erik S. Lesser/AFP/Getty Images

A Georgia Department of Corrections officer walks through the entrance to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson in 2011.

Had he provided Pye with adequate representation, jurors “would have learned that Mr. Pye has an intellectual disability and an IQ of 68,” his petition says, well below the average of 100. “They would also have learned that the challenges that he faced from birth (deep poverty, abandonment, constant violence and chaos in his family home) excluded the possibility of healthy development,” the petition says.

Pye, with two accomplices, He intended to rob a man with whom Yarbrough lived, according to an appeals court decision. Pye was angry with Yarbrough because the man had signed the birth certificate of a child Pye claimed was his. Pye purchased a .22-caliber handgun before the three men went in ski masks to the man’s house, where Yarbrough was alone with the baby.

Pye kicked in the door and pointed a gun at Yarbrough, the court decision says. The men took a ring and a necklace from Yarbrough, then kidnapped her and took her to a motel, where she was raped. They then drove Yarbrough down a dirt road, where Pye ordered him out of the car, told him to lie face down and shot him three times, according to the court ruling. One of Pye’s accomplices later confessed and testified for the state, and DNA analysis of semen taken from the victim’s body matched Pye.

Pye’s jury recommended a death sentence, which was ultimately imposed by the court in addition to three life sentences plus 20 years, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

His conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal in state and federal court, although in 2021 a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the sentence. find that the work of his trial counsel during the sentencing phase of Pye’s trial was deficient and prejudicial. That ruling, however, was overturned a year later, after a hearing before the entire 11th Circuit.

Pye’s accomplices are serving life sentences for their roles in Yarbrough’s murder, Georgia corrections records show.

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