Man Convicted of Killing Ex-Girlfriend in 1993 Finally Executed in Georgia

A Georgia man convicted of killing his former girlfriend three decades ago was executed Wednesday evening, the state’s first in more than four years.

Willie James Pye, 59, was pronounced dead at 11:03 p.m. in the Jackson State Prison after receiving an injection of the sedative pentobarbital. He was condemned to death for abducting, raping, and shooting Alicia Lynn Yarbrough in November 1993.

The warden asked Pye if he wanted to offer any final words, and he declined. When asked if he wanted a prayer said for him, he said, “Yes.” A member of the church then recited a brief prayer, begging God to grant Pye some grace and mercy.

Pye remained largely still as the medications began to flow. He began breathing rapidly about a half-dozen times, causing his cheeks to swell and his lips to quiver with each one. Then he remained still. Several minutes later, the warden entered the death chamber and declared the time of death.

Man Convicted of Killing Ex-Girlfriend in 1993 Finally Executed in Georgia

Pye’s lawyers submitted late pleas begging the US Supreme Court to intervene, but the justices unanimously refused to halt the execution. The defense team maintained that the state had not completed the legal circumstances for resuming executions following the COVID-19 outbreak, and they reiterated that Pye was unsuitable for execution due to an intellectual handicap.

State answers maintained that the allegations had already been handled by the courts and were without merit. The final execution in Georgia occurred in January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

Pye had an on-and-off romantic relationship with Yarbrough, but when she was killed, she was living with another man. Pye, Chester Adams, and a 15-year-old planned to rob the guy and buy a firearm before going to a party in a nearby town, according to prosecutors.

Around midnight, the trio left the party and headed to Yarbrough’s residence, where they found her alone with her kid. They forced their way into the house, stole Yarbrough’s ring and necklace, and forced her to accompany them while leaving the infant alone, according to prosecutors.

The trio traveled to a motel, assaulted Yarbrough, and then fled with her in the car, according to prosecutors. According to court documents, Pye threw Yarbrough out of the car, forced her to lie face down, and then shot her three times after turning onto a dirt road.

Yarbrough’s body was discovered on November 17, 1993, a few hours after she was killed. Pye, Adams, and the teen were shortly apprehended. Pye and Adams denied knowing anything about Yarbrough’s death, but the youngster admitted and accused the other two.

The adolescent entered a plea agreement with prosecutors and served as the primary witness in Pye’s trial. In June 1996, a jury convicted Pye of murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, and burglary and condemned him to death.

Pye’s lawyers claimed in court filings that prosecutors relied heavily on the teenager’s testimony, but that he later provided contradicting statements. Such words, as well as Pye’s testimony at trial, suggest that Yarbrough left the house freely and proceeded to the motel to barter sex for drugs, according to the lawyers in court documents.

Pye’s attorneys also stated in previous court files that their client was raised in great poverty in a home without indoor plumbing, food, or clothing. His youth was marked by neglect and abuse at the hands of frequently inebriated family members, according to his lawyers.

His lawyers also claimed that Pye had frontal lobe brain impairment, possibly caused by fetal alcohol syndrome, which impairs his planning abilities and impulsive control.

Pye’s attorneys have long argued in court that he should be resentenced because his trial lawyer failed to effectively prepare for the sentencing part of his case. His appeal team stated that the initial trial counsel did not do a thorough enough investigation into his “life, background, physical and psychiatric health” to provide mitigating evidence to the jury before sentence.

A federal court dismissed the claims, but a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Pye’s lawyers in April 2021. The case was then reheard by the full federal appeals court, which reversed the panel decision in October 2022.

In April 1997, Pye’s co-defendant Adams, aged 55, pled guilty to malice murder, kidnapping with bodily injury, armed robbery, rape, and aggravated sodomy. He received five consecutive life sentences and remains in prison.

Georgia has executed 75 men and one woman since the United States Supreme Court reintroduced the death sentence in 1976, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. Pye was the 54th person executed by lethal injection. There are now 35 males and one woman on death row in Georgia.

Related: Clemency Denied for The 1st Person Set to Be Executed in Over Four Years

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