Petition Surfaces Urging Reprieve for Georgia Inmate Facing Execution After 30 Years

Petition Surfaces Urging Reprieve for Georgia Inmate Facing Execution After 30 Years

Opponents of the death penalty started a petition on Tuesday to stop the execution of a crippled Black man from Georgia who was found guilty of murder almost thirty years ago.

A judge declared last Thursday that Willie Pye, 59, is set to undergo a fatal injection on March 20 at 7 p.m. for the November 1993 murder of his ex-girlfriend Alicia Lynn Yarbrough.

Citing Pye’s intellectual handicap, Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty, an organization dedicated to abolishing the death penalty, started a petition this week to halt Pye’s execution.

According to the petition, the execution of individuals with intellectual disabilities is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution; nevertheless, Georgia is the only state that demands proof of intellectual disability “beyond a reasonable doubt” before declaring a person unsuitable for the death penalty.

The New York Times reports that Georgia’s standard for demonstrating an intellectual handicap is designed to be difficult to establish and, in the context of prosecutions, to spare some guilty persons from the possibility of putting innocent people in jail.

The threshold for establishing an intellectual disability in every other state in the union is “preponderance of evidence,” which indicates that something is more likely than not the case.

“This is an unattainable standard,” the petition stated. “Had Willie Pye been tried in a state that uses ‘preponderance of evidence’ as a standard of proof, he would have been ineligible for the death penalty.”

The petition further alleged that the death penalty was applied more frequently than in counties of comparable size and that Black persons were disproportionately targeted by Spalding County, the location of Willie’s trial and conviction nearly thirty years earlier.

It continued by emphasizing how Pye’s very traumatic upbringing, intellectual handicap, racism in his hometown, and his decades-long nonviolent prison record were all kept from the jury throughout Pye’s trial.

According to Georgia Public Broadcasting, Pye’s attorneys had been making similar claims for years, alleging that Pye’s trial attorney had not sufficiently looked into Pye’s “life, background, physical and psychiatric health” in order to exclude mitigating information from being presented to the jury during Pye’s sentence.

Over 1,400 people signed the petition in a single day, and groups including Death Penalty Action and New Disabled South endorsed it.

In order to rob the man Yarbrough was living with at the time, Pye and two other individuals broke into his house, according to a press statement from the Georgia attorney general’s office. The trio discovered Yarbrough inside the home with her infant, took her necklace and ring, and kidnapped her, leaving the child behind.

After driving off with Yarbrough, Pye and his two friends stopped on a gravel road, where Pye gave his ex-girlfriend the command to lie face down and gave her three shots.

A jury found Pye guilty on June 6, 1996, of several charges including rape, burglary, armed robbery, kidnapping with bodily injury, and malice murder.

Georgia Public Broadcasting said that the execution that is set for later in March will be the state’s first since January 2020, when executions were temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.