Friday, June 02, 2006

What do Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have in common?

Each state is preparing to execute a severely mentally ill person. We're not talking about run-of-the-mill mental illness. We're talking totally whacked.

Okay, so "totally whacked" isn't a medical or scientific term. But consider:

  • In Tennessee, Paul Dennis Reid faces a June 28 execution date despite the fact that a neurologist found that Reed has a "chronic, schizophrenia-like psychosis which has severely impaired his ability to weigh, deliberate, inform, and cooperate.”
According to a case summary prepared by the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, Reid
believes that he is the target of surveillance and abuse by the “military government” which has manipulated his life and decisions since the 1980s. Reid writes that since 1985, “most every person who has any type of association or contact with me, usually first has to go through the military government.”

This includes, according to Reid, his attorneys, who he believes are under the control of the military government, and nearly every other person he has ever met. He believes that the “military government” has been using him as a lab rat, denying him success to try to force him to commit crimes. Without this interference, Reid says, he would have several law degrees, practice in a huge Houston firm, have a beautiful wife, and be rich. He even believes that the government possesses surveillance tapes that would exonerate him, but that it refuses to release them.

  • In Texas, Scott Panetti is down to his final appeals and an execution date could be set soon. Panetti represented himself at trial and wore cowboy costumes to court, delivered rambling monologues, put himself on the witness stand and sought to subpoena the pope, Jesus and John F. Kennedy. David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has met more than 75 death row inmates, visited Panetti at his lawyers' request. "Of all the people I have met on death row, he's the gold-medal-crazy winner," Professor Dow said.

  • In Virginia, Percy Walton faces a June 8 execution date despite the fact that, according to his lawyers, he is a shell of a human being, severely mentally ill and cognitively impaired and completely unaware that he faces imminent execution.

While awaiting trial, Walton expressed his belief that he could not be seen if he had his eyes closed. He also told his relatives he was Jesus Christ and that he was a millionaire. He told others he looked forward to his execution because then he would be able to return to life immediately and resurrect his dead family members. In 1999, a psychiatrist, a neuropsychologist and a neurologist assessed Walton's mental health for his appeals and found that he suffers from severe chronic schizophrenia.

Years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ford v. Wainwright that a person could be executed as long as he understands that is being executed and why he is being executed. Putting aside for a moment the fact that all three of these men should be spared under the Ford v. Wainwright standard, the bar set by the U.S. Supreme Court for establishing mental illness is simply too high.

Culpability is a cornerstone of our criminal justice system. If I commit murder, I am much more culpable for my actions than a person who is severely mentally ill, severely mentally retarded, etc. Put another way, an 8-year-old who does something wrong is less culpable than an adult who does something wrong -- that is why we do not send 8-year-olds to prison.

Many people don't realize that of the 3,300-plus people on death rows across the country, hundreds of people are severely mentally ill. The New York Times has a front-page story that examines this issue. It's worth a read. You can find it here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul Dennis Reed murdered a very good friend of mine. I can't wait for that bastard to die.