Prison, cell

A Georgia Man Will Be The First Post-Pandemic Execution

The execution will take place this month.

An execution of a prisoner is being planned in Georgia, which would be the first one taking place since the coronavirus pandemic halted the procedure of using lethal injections.

According to the Associated Press, on March 20, 59-year-old Willie James Pye is scheduled to be put to death after being convicted of murder and other crimes after killing his former girlfriend, Alicia Lynn Yarbrough, in November 1993. This execution would be the first performed since January 2020. The state attorney general’s office agreed with attorneys who represented death row prisoners to hold off executions for a particular group of prisoners and to establish conditions under which they could resume. This was done in April 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agreement made between the attorneys and the state stipulated that executions would not take place until six months after three prearranged conditions had been met. Those conditions were: “the expiration of the state’s COVID-19 judicial emergency, the resumption of normal visitation at state prisons, and the availability of a COVID vaccine ‘to all members of the public.'”

These conditions only applied to prisoners on death row whose appeals requests were denied by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals while the judicial emergency was in place. The agreement was to continue through August 1, 2022, or one year from the date on which the aforementioned conditions were met—whichever was later.

Last month, on Feb. 28, the day before the state got an execution order for Pye, his attorneys filed a motion for him to join the litigation over the agreement. The lawyers claimed that the visitation and COVID-19 vaccine requirements had not yet been fulfilled.

“We are beyond shocked and outraged by the fact that, in the midst of settlement discussions, the Attorney General’s office was simultaneously acting to pursue the execution of Willie Pye, one of our clients included in those talks, and doing so without informing us or the Court,” said Nathan Potek, an attorney for the death row prisoners for the Federal Defender Program.

The 11th Circuit denied Pye’s appeal in March 2023, nearly two years after the judicial emergency ended. The state said the agreement was “expressly limited to a small subgroup of death-eligible inmates.” Since he is not included in that group, he is not exempt from execution while the litigation over the agreement is pending, the state says.

Pye’s attorneys also filed a new lawsuit accusing the state of violating the contract. On March 11, another federal lawsuit was filed saying that the state unconstitutionally created two classes of death row prisoners: those who are covered by the agreement’s protections and those who are not.