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Ga. executes inmate for 1993 murder

Willie James Pye was executed at 11:03 p.m. on March 20, making him the 54th prisoner killed by lethal injection in Georgia and the 77th person executed by the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976

Death Penalty Georgia

This image provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections shows inmate Willie James Pye. 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 is set for March 20 at 7 p.m., after the judge set an execution window between noon that day and noon on March 27. (Georgia Department of Corrections via AP)


By Jennifer Peebles, Jozsef Papp and Shaadi Abusaid
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

GRIFFIN, Ga. — The state of Georgia has executed Willie James Pye for the 1993 rape and murder of his former girlfriend in Spalding County.

The 59-year-old, who had been on death row nearly three decades, was given a lethal injection of the sedative pentobarbital at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

Pye was executed at 11:03 p.m. Wednesday, making him the 54th prisoner killed by lethal injection in Georgia and the 77th person executed by the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

His execution was the first in Georgia in more than four years.

Six of Pye’s family members visited him Wednesday afternoon, along with an attorney and a clergy member, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman. He also ate his final meal and recorded a statement ahead of his scheduled execution.

Prison officials also said that a physical was performed on Pye before the lethal injection.

For his last meal, Pye requested two chicken sandwiches, two cheeseburgers, french fries, two bags of plain potato chips and two lemon-lime sodas. He only ate one burger and fries, the spokeswoman said.

Across the street from the prison, a group gathered to protest the execution. One sign read “68 IQ,” referring to his attorneys’ argument that Pye had a diminished mental capacity. Another said, “Don’t kill Willie Pye,” while other demonstrators held pictures of the condemned prisoner.

Pye was convicted of killing Alicia Lynn Yarbrough, who was kidnapped, raped and fatally shot. Her body was discovered on a dirt road Nov. 17, 1993, hours after she was killed.

A jury convicted Pye on June 6, 1996, and recommended a death sentence the following day.

Pye’s final appeals were denied around 9:50 p.m. by the U.S. Supreme Court, clearing the way for his execution. The high court declined to hear Pye’s request to halt his execution on grounds that an agreement made by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office delaying executions during the COVID-19 pandemic was still in effect and applied to him. Attorneys for the state maintained the agreement did not apply to Pye.

Pye’s lawyers also requested a stay on grounds that he was intellectually disabled, saying his below-average IQ made him ineligible for the death penalty. The Supreme Court rejected both appeals.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Pye’s plea for clemency on Tuesday after an hours-long closed-door meeting.

Three of the jurors who convicted Pye joined the attempt to spare his life, writing letters to the board in support of his clemency. Defense attorneys also raised questions about the lawyer who represented him at trial, calling the attorney a “racist, overworked public defender” who “shrugged off any meaningful investment in the case.”

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter was among a small handful of media witnesses at Pye’s execution.


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