Willie Pye becomes first person executed in Georgia in four years

Willie James Pye has become the first person to be executed in Georgia in four years.

The 59-year-old was sentenced to death for the 1993 murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and burglary of Alicia Lynn Yarbrough. He was put to death by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson on Wednesday evening, and pronounced dead at 11.03pm.

A day before the execution, the Georgia Parole Board heard from Pye’s attorneys who submitted an application to stay the man’s execution.

They claimed that Pye should not be put to death because he is intellectually disabled and feels remorse for his victim’s family. Additionally, his counsel at trial “effectively abandoned his post, leaving no one and nothing, to stand between his client and death,” the application read.

“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 attributed Pye’s low IQ in part to his mother abusing alcohol while pregnant with him. The average person has an IQ between 85 and 115.

This evidence was never heard at trial, his attorneys said, adding that some of the man’s jurors no longer want him to be put to death. “This is precisely the kind of evidence that supports a life sentence verdict,” the application added.

Still, the board rejected the request, all but confirming that the man’s execution would go ahead as planned. In Georgia, the board has the sole authority to vacate a death penalty sentence.

The execution was subsequently ordered by The Superior Court of Spalding County. 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.

The Independent reached out to Pye’s attorneys to determine if they planned to file a writ of certiorari with the US Supreme Court but did not hear back. CNN reported that there was some type of litigation pending ahead of the man’s execution.

Pye had been on the state’s death row for 28 years. The last person in Georgia to be executed was Donnie Cleveland Lance in 2020. Executions in the state came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

According to court filings, Pye, Chester Adams and Anthony Freeman robbed, kidnapped, raped and murdered Yarbrough three decades ago.

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, who was 15 at the time, confessed to the crimes, took a plea deal and was the main witness at Pye’s trial.

He is currently out on parole.

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