Georgia Prepares for First Execution Since 2020 Amid Controversy

Georgia is preparing to execute a prisoner for the first time since January 2020, joining other states in a resurgence of the death penalty in the States.

Willie James Pye
(Image source: Twitter)

Willie James Pye, aged 59, is slated to be executed by lethal injection at a state prison in Butts County, situated south of Atlanta, for the 1993 murder of his former girlfriend.

Despite a plea for clemency submitted to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, Pye's request was denied on Tuesday. The board emphasized its exclusive constitutional authority in death penalty cases in Georgia.

Opposition to the execution of Pye, an African American, arose from anti-death penalty groups. They argued that his court-appointed attorney, who allegedly used a racial slur in another case involving a Black defendant, failed to adequately represent him. Additionally, records indicate signs of potential intellectual disability, possibly linked to fetal alcohol syndrome.

In a last-minute effort, Pye's legal team filed an emergency motion in a federal appeals court seeking to temporarily halt the execution, a common tactic for death row inmates that could prompt intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pye's lawyers argued that had his defense counsel fulfilled their role effectively, the jury would have been made aware of his intellectual disability, with an IQ of 68, potentially altering the outcome.

Earlier, Pye had lost an appeal contesting Georgia's failure to meet certain requirements to resume executions amid the . His lawyers cited difficulties in communication after the decision to execute him was made, calling it unacceptable.

Pye's requested final meal consisted of two chicken sandwiches, two cheeseburgers, fries, two bags of plain potato chips, and two lemon-lime sodas, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.

The last execution in Georgia occurred in January 2020. Presently, there are 36 men and one woman on death row in Georgia, including Pye.

Although other states have resumed executions in recent years, securing lethal injection drugs has become increasingly challenging due to restrictions imposed by drug manufacturers.

Last month, Idaho's first execution attempt in 12 years failed due to the inability to establish an IV line, prompting concerns over the procedure's execution. Alabama conducted the country's first execution using nitrogen gas in January, exploring alternative methods due to drug procurement difficulties.

However, Georgia asserts its ability to obtain pentobarbital, a sedative, for lethal injections.

Pye was convicted in Spalding County for the murder of his former girlfriend, Alicia Yarbrough. Prosecutors alleged that Pye, along with another man and a teenager, burglarized Yarbrough's , kidnapped her as she tended to her baby, and later raped and fatally shot her.

While the teenager accepted a plea deal and the other defendant received multiple life sentences, Pye was sentenced to death. During the trial's sentencing phase, prosecutors speculated that Pye might kill a prison guard to escape, a claim that was unsuccessfully appealed to the state Supreme Court in 1998.

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