Georgia: Willie James Pye executed – despite several highly questionable aspects of his case

After a four-hour delay due to final submissions to the United States Supreme Court, 59-year-old Willie James Pye was executed by lethal injection by the US state of Georgia on Wednesday evening.

He was sentenced to death for abducting, raping and murdering his former girlfriend in 1993 along with two accomplices. The three had decided to rob their victim, who was living with another man at the time and had a newborn child that Pye believed was his.

The case was scandalous in more ways than one. Willie Pye’s public defender at trial was Johnny B. Mostiler, who, according to his current attorneys, was incompetent and racist.

Mostiler, who was the only public defender in Spalding County, Georgia, handling up to 900 cases a year, died of a heart attack in 2000 at the age of 53. In an obituary, he was described as a “gruff-talking, chain-smoking” lawyer who “handed over a case every 100 minutes, less time than a private attorney would spend on a simple traffic violation.”

Accordingly, neither Pye’s violent childhood nor his mental impairment with an IQ of 68 to 70 played a role in the defense. Instead, Mostiler is said to have been openly racist towards his clients: “Little nigger who deserves to die”, he is said to have said to one client, and one of his clients was executed even though Mostiler had slept through most of the trial.

The execution of Willie Pye’s death sentence was the first execution in Georgia since January 2020 and no further executions are initially expected because a judicial emergency at the time of the Corona crisis led to the Federal Defender Program and the Attorney General’s Office agreeing in April 2021 not to request new execution dates until the judicial emergency had been lifted, normal visitation had resumed and the Covid vaccine had been made available to “all members of the public”.

However, the agreement only applied to people whose legal remedies were exhausted during the judicial state of emergency, which did not include Willie Pye at the time. As normal visitation has not yet resumed, Pye’s lawyers used this argument to try to obtain a stay of execution from the US Supreme Court. Without success.