Georgia plans to put to death a man in the state’s first execution in more than 4 years

ATLANTA– A Georgia man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend three decades ago will be put to death Wednesday in what would be the state’s first execution in more than four years.

Willie James Pye, 59, was convicted of murder and other crimes in the November 1993 killing of Alicia Lynn Yarbrough. The scheduled lethal injection with the sedative pentobarbital will take place at the state prison in Jackson at 7 p.m.

In their request for leniency, Pye’s lawyers called the 1996 trial “a shocking relic of the past” and said the local public defense system had serious flaws in the 1990s.

The failure of the local justice system resulted in “defendants being turned into convicted criminals with all the efficiency of Henry Ford’s assembly line,” Pye’s lawyers wrote in their clemency petition.

“If the defense had not abandoned its role, the jurors would have learned that Mr. Pye is mentally retarded and has an IQ of 68,” they said, citing the state expert’s findings.

Defendants with intellectual disabilities are not eligible for execution. Experts said Pye met the criteria, but the burden of proof in Georgia was too high to reach, his lawyers argued.

“They would also have learned that the challenges he faced from birth – deep poverty, neglect, constant violence and chaos in his family home – precluded the possibility of healthy development,” they wrote. “This is exactly the kind of evidence that supports a life sentence.”

But the Georgia Parole Board rejected those arguments Tuesday after a closed-door meeting and denied Pye’s request for leniency.

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

The trio left the party around midnight and went to the house where Yarbrough lived, where they found her alone with her baby. They forced their way into the house, stole a ring and necklace from Yarbrough and forced her to leave with them, leaving the baby alone, prosecutors say.

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, a few hours after she was murdered. Pye, Adams and the teen were quickly arrested. Pye and Adams denied knowing anything about Yarbrough’s death, but the teen confessed and implicated the other two.

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

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

Attorneys representing Pye also wrote in court filings that their client had grown up in extreme poverty in a home without indoor plumbing or access to adequate food, shoes or clothing. His childhood was marked by neglect and abuse by family members who were often drunk, his lawyers wrote.

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

Pye’s lawyers had long argued in courts that he should be resentenced because his trial attorney had not adequately prepared for the penalty phase of his trial. His legal team argued that the original trial attorney failed to conduct sufficient research into his “life, background, physical and psychiatric health” to present mitigating evidence to the jury at sentencing.

A federal judge dismissed those claims, but a three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Pye’s lawyers in April 2021. But then the case was heard again by the full federal appeals court, which overturned the panel’s ruling in October 2022. .

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

Pye is expected to be the first person to be executed in Georgia since January 2020.