Execution Set for Murderer, Attorney General Provides Details

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Willie James Pye

On February 29, 2024, the Superior Court of Spalding County officially set the parameters for the execution of Willie James Pye. The execution is slated to take place within a seven-day window, beginning at noon on March 20, 2024, and concluding at noon on March 27, 2024. Pye’s legal options have been exhausted, including direct appeal proceedings and state and federal habeas corpus proceedings.

Pye’s Crimes (1992)

The harrowing details of Willie James Pye’s crimes, committed in 1992, paint a chilling picture of violence and terror. According to the Georgia Supreme Court’s summary:

Pye had been in a sporadic romantic relationship with the victim, Alicia Lynn Yarbrough, but, at the time of her murder, Ms. Yarbrough was living with another man, Charles Puckett. Pye and two companions, Chester Adams and Anthony Freeman, planned to rob Puckett because Pye had heard that Puckett had just collected money from the settlement of a lawsuit. Pye was also angry because Puckett had signed the birth certificate of a child whom Pye claimed as his own.

The three men drove to Griffin in Adams’ car and, in a street transaction, Pye bought a large, distinctive .22 pistol. They then went to a party where a witness observed Pye in possession of the large .22. Just before midnight, the three left the party and drove toward Puckett’s house. As they were leaving, a witness heard Pye say, “it’s time, let’s do it.” All of the men put on the ski masks which Pye had brought with him, and Pye and Adams also put on gloves.

They approached Puckett’s house on foot and observed that only Ms. Yarbrough and her baby were home. Pye tried to open a window and Ms. Yarbrough saw him and screamed. Pye ran around to the front door, kicked it in, and held Ms. Yarbrough at gunpoint. After determining that there was no money in the house, they took a ring and a necklace from Ms. Yarbrough and abducted her, leaving the infant in the house. The men drove to a nearby motel where Pye rented a room using an alias. In the motel room, the three men took turns raping Ms. Yarbrough at gunpoint. Pye was angry with Ms. Yarbrough and said, “You let Puckett sign my baby’s birth certificate.”

After attempting to eliminate their fingerprints from the motel room, the three men and Ms. Yarbrough left in Adams’ car. Pye whispered in Adams’ ear and Adams turned off onto a dirt road. Pye then ordered Ms. Yarbrough out of the car, made her lie face down, and shot her three times, killing her. As they were driving away, Pye tossed the gloves, masks, and the large .22 from the car. The police later recovered these items and found the victim’s body only a few hours after she was killed. A hair found on one of the masks was consistent with the victim’s hair, and a ballistics expert determined that there was a 90 percent probability that a bullet found in the victim’s body had been fired by the .22. Semen was found in the victim’s body and DNA taken from the semen matched Pye’s DNA. When Pye talked to the police later that day, he stated that he had not seen the victim in at least two weeks. However, Freeman confessed and later testified for the State.

Trial (1994-1997)

The legal proceedings against Pye commenced in 1994 with his indictment on charges including murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary, rape, and sodomy. Pye’s trial unfolded over several years, culminating in a jury verdict in 1996. The jury found him guilty on most counts, resulting in a death sentence for the murder charge, along with multiple life sentences for other offenses. Despite Pye’s motion for a new trial, the request was denied, solidifying the verdict.

Direct Appeal (1998-1999)

In a bid for recourse, Pye appealed his convictions and sentences to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1998. However, his hopes for reprieve were dashed when the court affirmed the verdict in 1998. The United States Supreme Court further declined to review the case in 1999, exhausting Pye’s avenues for direct appeal.

State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2000-2013)

Undeterred, Pye pursued state habeas corpus relief, filing a petition in 2000. Despite prolonged legal battles and a fervent defense, his petition was denied in 2013 following an exhaustive process that included an evidentiary hearing and post-hearing briefing. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the denial, closing yet another chapter in Pye’s legal saga.

Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2013-2023)

Pye’s quest for relief continued with a federal habeas corpus petition filed in 2013 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The ensuing legal odyssey saw conflicting decisions, with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals initially granting relief and vacating Pye’s death sentence in 2021. However, following full court review, the Eleventh Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas relief in 2022. The United States Supreme Court sealed Pye’s fate by denying his request for appeal in 2023.