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Clemency rejected for man scheduled to be 1st person executed in Georgia in more than 4 years

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's parole board has rejected clemency for a condemned man set to die Wednesday night, clearing the way for the state's first execution in more than four years.

Lawyers for Willie James Pye had argued that he should not be executed because he is intellectually disabled and feels remorse for killing a woman three decades ago, his lawyers wrote in their clemency petition.

Pye, 59, is scheduled to be receive a lethal injection using the sedative pentobarbital. He was convicted of murder, rape and other crimes in the November 1993 killing of his ex-girlfriend, Alicia Lynn Yarbrough.

After a hearing held behind closed doors, the Georgia Parole Board denied Pye's request for clemency, the agency announced late Tuesday.

Pye’s lawyers called the man's trial “a shocking relic of the past” and cited racism and severe shortcomings in the Spalding County public defender system of the 1990s.

The failures of the local justice system had the effect of “turning accused defendants into convicted felons with all the efficiency of Henry Ford’s assembly line,” Pye’s lawyers wrote in their clemency application.

“Had defense counsel not abdicated his role, the jurors would have learned that Mr. Pye is intellectually disabled and has an IQ of 68,” his lawyers wrote.

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

Pye had been in an on-and-off romantic relationship with Yarbrough. At the time she was killed, Yarbrough was living with another man. Pye, Chester Adams and a 15-year-old boy had planned to rob that man and bought a handgun before heading to a party in Griffin, prosecutors have said.

The trio left the party around midnight and went to the house where Yarbrough lived, finding her alone with her baby, according to authorities. They forced their way into the house, stole a ring and necklace from Yarbrough and took her with them when they left, leaving the baby alone, prosecutors have said.

The three then drove to a motel where they took turns raping Yarbrough and then left the motel with her in the teenager’s car, prosecutors have said. After turning onto a dirt road, Pye ordered Yarbrough out of the car and made her lie face down before shooting her three times, according to court records.

A jury in June 1996 found Pye guilty of murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and burglary, and sentenced him to death.

Georgia’s last execution was in January 2020. The state is trying to move past an agreement made amid the COVID-19 pandemic that effectively halted lethal injections at the time.