Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a lower court to rule on whether a man on Alabama's death row should face execution even though multiple strokes have left him with dementia.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. sided with the four liberal justices in the 5-3 ruling. Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not vote in the case because he had not yet been confirmed when the case was first argued.
An Alabama judge sentenced Vernon Madison to death in 1994 for the shooting death of Mobile police Cpl. Julius Schulte in 1985. Madison has since had multiple strokes, which caused him to have vascular dementia, leaving him unable to remember the crime.
The high court said inmates must be able to rationally understand their punishment in order to be executed.
"If a person suffering from any mental disorder -- dementia included -- is unable to rationally understand why the state wants to execute him, then the Eighth Amendment doesn't allow the execution," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the ruling.
"The state court, we have little doubt, can evaluate such matters better than we. It must do so as the first step in assessing Madison's competency -- and ensuring that if he is to be executed, he understands why," she added.
A federal appeals court ordered a temporary stay for Madison in 2016 in order to review whether the strokes left him incompetent.