Execution scheduled for man convicted in 1993 Spalding County murder

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.

The execution for a man convicted in a 1993 murder in Spalding County has been set for next month, the Georgia Department of Corrections announced.

The Spalding County Superior Court ordered the GDC to carry out the execution of Willie James Pye between March 20 and March 27, 2024. GDC Commissioner Tyrone Oliver set Pye’s execution for Wed., March 20 at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

If the execution occurs as scheduled, it will the first execution in Georgia in more than four years.

Pye was convicted of shooting and killing Alicia Lynn Yarbrough, with whom he had a sporadic romantic relationship, in November, 1993. Pye was indicted for 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.

A jury found Pye guilty on all counts except felony murder and aggravated sodomy on June 6, 1996. The next day, the jury recommended a death sentence.

After being convicted, Pye appealed his death sentence multiple times in state and federal court. On Oct. 30, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Pye’s request to appeal a district court’s decision to deny his federal habeas relief, ending Pye’s direct appeal proceedings and state and federal habeas corpus proceedings.

At the time of the murder, Yarbrough was living with another man, Charles Puckett, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

Pye and two companions, Chester Adams and Anthony Freeman, planned to rob Puckett because Pye had heard that Puckett had collected some money relating to a settlement of a lawsuit. According to the AG’s office, Pye was also angry because Puckett had signed the birth certificate of a child whom Pye claimed was his.

According to the AG’s office, the three men drove to Griffin and went to a party before heading towards Puckett’s house. Witnesses at the party saw Pye in possession of a gun.

All three put on ski masks, but only Pye and Adams put on gloves before approaching the home and noticing that Yarbrough and her baby were the only ones there. Pye tried to open a window. Yarbrough saw him and screamed.

According to the AG’s office, Pye ran inside the home and held Yarbrough at gunpoint. After realizing there was no money in the house, the men took a ring and a necklace and abducted Yarbrough, leaving the infant in the house, the AG’s office said.

The three men drove to a nearby motel, where Pye rented a room using an alias. According to the AG’s office, the three men took turns raping Yarbrough at gunpoint.

The three men later took Yarbrough back to the car, where Pye directed one of his companions to turn on a dirt road. According to the AG’s office, Pye ordered Yarbrough out of the car, made her lie face down and shot her three times.

Officials found Yarbrough’s body a few hours after she was killed. Pye, Adams and a teenager were later arrested. Pye and Adams denied their involvement, but the teen confessed and became a state witness after reaching a plea agreement, implicating Pye and Adams in the murder, the Associated Press reported.

Adams pleaded guilty to charges of malice murder, kidnapping with bodily injury, armed robbery, rape and aggravated sodomy and was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences and remains in prison.

If executed, Pye will become the 54th inmate put to death by lethal injection.

An agreement with the AG’s office was put in place in 2021, delaying most Georgia executions until after the COVID-19 pandemic. Pye’s lawyer cited that agreement when asking a court Wednesday to prohibit the state from seeking an execution warrant against him for the time being, the AP reported.

The state agreed to halt most executions until after the pandemic, and it gave three conditions that must be met before they would resume: the statewide judicial emergency in place at the time had to be lifted, normal visitation would resume at state prisons and the vaccine would be “readily available to all members of the public.”

It also said the first person killed when executions resumed would be Billy Raulerson, who sits on death row for killing three Ware County residents in 1993. The state said it would not seek new execution warrants for any other inmate “before a total of six months after the time the above three conditions are met.”

However, the AG’s office backed off the agreement and set the execution of convicted killer, Virgil Delano Presnell Jr. for May 17, 2022, even though none of the three conditions had been met.

Georgia sets execution for man convicted of murdering 8-year-old, raping 10-year-old

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Presnell, Georgia’s longest serving death row prisoner, kidnapped two Cobb County girls as they walked home from Russell Elementary School in May 1976, raping a 10-year-old and then drowning 8-year-old Lori Ann Smith in a nearby creek when she tried to run. He was sentenced to death later that year, and again in 1999 after his first sentence was overturned.

The Federal Defender Program filed a suit, leading to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shermela Williams issuing an injunction halting Presnell’s execution the night before it was set to take place. The AG’s office appealed that injunction to the Georgia Supreme Court on the day Presnell was supposed to be executed.

In December 2022, a unanimous Georgia Supreme Court condemned Attorney General Chris Carr’s office for backtracking on the agreement and scheduling Presnell’s execution. In its ruling, the state’s high court sided with the Federal Defender Program and Williams, who stayed Presnell’s execution.

In the order signed Thursday scheduling Pye’s execution, the Fulton County injunction and case is acknowledged, but the order states that Pye is “not a party to that action and it therefore does not enjoin his execution.” The order also states that Pye’s petition for “rehearing or rehearing en banc was denied by the Eleventh Circuit on March 9, 2023,” which was after the judicial emergency relating to the pandemic expired on June 30, 2021.

The last state inmate executed was Donnie Cleveland Lance, who received a lethal injection on Jan. 29, 2020. Lance was convicted of killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend in 1997.