Georgia death row inmate to be executed after last-ditch appeal

Willie James Pye  (Georgia Department of Corrections)
Willie James Pye (Georgia Department of Corrections)

A Georgia clemency panel has voted against allowing a death row inmate, who is set to be executed later this week, to spend the rest of his days in prison.

Willie James Pye, 59, has been on death row for the last 28 years after being convicted of the kidnap, robbery, rape and murder of 21-year-old Alicia Lynn Yarbrough back in 1993.

He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 7pm ET on Wednesday at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. His execution will mark the first carried out in Georgia in four years.

His legal team filed a recent clemency application seeking a stay in his execution but that effort was denied on Tuesday after the clemency panel deliberated for several hours. The board has the sole authority to grant clemency on a death penalty case in Georgia. The Independent has reached out to his attorneys for comment.

The board had the option to commute Pye’s death sentence to life with or without the possibility of parole, issue a stay or deny clemency altogether.

Pye’s attorneys have argued that he must not be executed for his crimes because he is intellectually unstable and feels remorse.

The application for Pye’s clemency is based on several points: that his intellectual disability makes him ineligible for execution; the “appalling” conditions of his childhood; his non-threatening behaviour toward corrections staff; some jurors on his trial do not want him to be executed; and that he feels remorse for his crimes.

The attorneys also argued that the public defender at Pye’s trial “effectively abandoned his post, leaving no one and nothing, to stand between his client and death”.

The application continued: “Had defence counsel not abdicated his role, the jurors would have learned that Pye is intellectually disabled and has an IQ of 68. 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.”

Attorneys put down Pye’s low IQ in part to his mother abusing alcohol while she was pregnant with him. The average person has an IQ between 85 and 115.

“This is precisely the kind of evidence that supports a life sentence verdict,” the application added.

US Supreme Court filings in connection with the case state that Pye, Chester Adams and Anthony Freeman robbed, kidnapped, raped and murdered Yarbrough back in 1993.

At the time of her murder, the 21-year-old was living with her boyfriend – who was the father of her child – but had previously been in a romantic relationship with Pye.

Her boyfriend signed her child’s birth certificate though Pye believed he was the father.

Court documents say this angered Pye and – after finding out that Yarbrough’s boyfriend had received settlement money from a lawsuit – he and his accomplices planned to rob him.

When the men arrived at the couple’s home, they found Yarbrough alone. Pye held the woman at gunpoint and kidnapped her. The men then went to a motel where they took turns raping her, the documents state.

Afterwards, they put Yarbrough in a car and left, eventually stopping along a dirt road. That’s where authorities say Pye told the woman to get out of the car, made her lie face down and shot her three times.

Prosecutors tied Pye to the crime using DNA recovered from his victim’s body.

Adams pleaded guilty to his involvement in the crimes in April 1997 and was handed five consecutive life sentences and is still behind bars. Freeman confessed to the crimes, took a plea deal and was the main witness at Pye’s trial.

Pye has requested a last meal of two chicken sandwiches, two cheeseburgers, french fries, two bags of plain potato chips and two lemon-lime sodas.