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The Complicated Case of a Death Row Inmate Who Can’t Remember His Crime

67-year-old Vernon Madison has been on death row for over three decades and was supposed to be executed in 2016, but after a series of strokes allegedly wiped out his memories of fatally shooting a police officer, his lawyers have been trying to suspend his death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court will now have to decide if it is lawful to execute a murderer who does not remember his crime.

Madison was supposed to receive the death penalty in May of 2016, for the 1985 murder of a police officer. Shortly before the sentence could be carried out, his lawyers intervened, arguing that as a result of several strokes, the inmate had suffered neurological damage and could no longer remember his crime. A previous ruling of the Supreme Court stated that mentally incompetent prisoners cannot be executed, but also that some of them may be ruled competent to be executed as long as he or she understands their punishment and why they are receiving it. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation by state courts, so Vernon Madison’s execution has been scheduled and postponed several times in the last two years. It is now up to the Supreme Court to rule if it is lawful to have a man executed for a crime he doesn’t remember.

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