3 jurors who convicted condemned Georgia prisoner don’t want him executed

Willie James Pye is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday March 20 at 7 p.m.. A judge on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, signed the order for the execution of Pye, who was convicted of murder and other crimes in the November 1993 killing of Alicia Lynn Yarbrough.

Credit: Photo provided by Willie James Pye's attorneys

Credit: Photo provided by Willie James Pye's attorneys

Willie James Pye is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday March 20 at 7 p.m.. A judge on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, signed the order for the execution of Pye, who was convicted of murder and other crimes in the November 1993 killing of Alicia Lynn Yarbrough.

Three of the nine surviving jurors who convicted Willie James Pye of the 1993 rape and murder of his former girlfriend want Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare his life.

“I want the board to know I do not want Mr. Pye to be executed,” one woman wrote. “I would like Mr. Pye to live out the rest of his life in prison.”

Another juror wrote that Pye’s trial attorney did a poor job defending him.

“At the time, many of the jurors felt his attorney did an inadequate job of defending him at trial,” she wrote. “It was a serious case but (Pye’s lawyer) could not have cared less.”

The Board of Pardons and Paroles will hold a closed-door clemency hearing Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled execution. The board decides such cases; the governor has no say.

Pye, 59, was convicted of shooting, raping and killing Alicia Lynn Yarbrough, with whom he had a sporadic romantic relationship, in November 1993 in Spalding County. He was indicted on charges of malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping with bodily injury, armed robbery, burglary, rape and aggravated sodomy on Feb. 7, 1994. Trial began on May 28, 1996.

He was convicted of rape, malice murder, kidnapping and other charges on June 6, 1996. The next day, the jury recommended a death sentence.

Pye is intellectually disabled and was represented at trial by a “racist, overworked public defender” who “shrugged off any meaningful investment in the case,” his attorneys wrote in arguing for his death sentence to be commuted.

At the time, the Spalding County public defender, who has since died, also represented “thousands of other people,” including four additional capital defendants, filings allege. Pye’s attorneys contend the trial lawyer spent only 150 hours preparing for trial and failed to bring up details about Pye’s troubled upbringing during the sentencing phase.

Pye’s execution would be the first in Georgia in more than four years following an agreement between the state Attorney General’s Office and attorneys representing those on death row that halted lethal injections during the pandemic.

The agreement gave three conditions that must be met before executions would resume: the statewide judicial emergency in place at the time had to be lifted, normal visitation would resume at state prisons and the COVID-19 vaccine would be “readily available to all members of the public.”

Dr. Cathy Harmon-Christian, executive director of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, leads a group to deliver a petition to commute Willie James Pye’s death sentence in Atlanta on Monday, March 18, 2024.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

On Monday, members of the Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty gathered outside the parole board building downtown.

Executive Director Cathy Harmon-Christian said the group turned in hundreds of signatures and some letters from across the globe asking the parole board to spare Pye’s life.

”The goal of the petition is for the parole board to hear there are a lot of people who want them to give mercy to Willie Pye,” Harmon-Christian said. ”Mr. Pye has a heartbeat, he lives among us. He has the right to life. We believe the state does not have the right to kill Mr. Pye in our name.”

The organization plans to hold vigils across the state on Wednesday, including one outside the gates of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson, where Pye is set to be executed.

After being convicted, Pye unsuccessfully appealed his death sentence multiple times in state and federal court. His attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear his case was denied in October.

Pye’s clemency application contains letters from several close family members, including Pye’s siblings and a niece who received a full scholarship to law school.

“From my early childhood visits to my current adulthood visits, Uncle Will has always been interested in what’s going on in my life,” his niece wrote. “He beamed with pride every time I came to visit.”

She said her uncle brags about her at the prison every chance he gets.

“Other inmates would see me and say, ‘You’re Pye’s niece (that’s) in law school, huh? He talks about you all the time.’”

If executed, Pye will be the 54th inmate put to death by lethal injection in Georgia. There are 36 men and one woman on death row in Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Corrections said that for his last meal, Pye requested two chicken sandwiches, two cheeseburgers, french fries, two bags of plain potato chips and two lemon-lime sodas.