Archive | Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals

26 November 2014 ~ Comments Off

Texas Court Split Again on Granting Stay of Execution to Scott Panetti

Just In: Following a 5-4 divided ruling on Tuesday, today a 6-3 splintered Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) again denied a stay of execution on Eighth Amendment grounds for Scott Panetti, a schizophrenic man scheduled for execution on December 3, 2014. On November 24, attorneys filed a challenge to the use of the death penalty against persons with severe mental illness because there is an emerging consensus against the imposition of the death penalty on people with severe mental illness, like Mr. Panetti.

In a powerful dissent, Judge Tom Price wrote:

“I would grant applicant’s motion for a stay of execution and would hold that his severe mental illness renders him categorically ineligible for the death penalty under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“It is inconceivable to me how the execution of a severely mentally ill person such as applicant would measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes purportedly served by the death penalty.

“I can imagine no rational reason for carving a line between the prohibition on the execution of a mentally retarded person or an insane person while permitting the execution of a severely mentally ill person. At a minimum, therefore, I would hold that the execution of a severely mentally ill person violates the Eighth Amendment of the federal Constitution.”

Judge Elsa Alcala, joined by Judge Cheryl Johnson found that Mr. Panetti had raised a “compelling argument” that the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of the seriously mentally ill and that the majority had not given “greater consideration” to his argument. They would have stayed Mr. Panetti’s execution and permitted further briefing of the Eighth Amendment issue.

The CCA Order and Dissents can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQa1czZHZmNHk0SXlVU3pKZkpnd0pId1owRnVB/view?usp=sharing

The following is a statement from Kathryn Kase, co-counsel for Mr. Panetti:

“In powerful dissents issued yesterday and today, judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals reflect the same concerns that  people across the country have expressed about the impending execution of Scott Panetti. Today’s dissent from Judge Tom Price, argues what tens of thousands of others across the nation have expressed – that executing a person as severely mentally ill as Scott Panetti will serve no retributive or deterrent value. New research shows that there is a growing trend across states against imposing the harshest punishment on people with severe mental illness. Certainly a consensus has emerged in this case, demonstrated by the widespread support for relief from the mental health community, the conservative faith community, the leading legal organizations, among others, that the execution of Mr. Panetti, who has suffered from schizophrenia for three decades, would cross a moral line. We will challenge today’s ruling and demonstrate that the execution of the Scott Panetti would be cruel and unusual punishment.”

-Kathryn Kase, attorney for Scott Panetti and Executive Director of Texas Defender Service

-November 26, 2014

Yesterday’s Ruling and Dissents

On Tuesday, November 25th, a 5-4 splintered Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) denied, on jurisdictional grounds, a stay of execution and appointment of counsel and mental health experts for Mr. Panetti. Attorneys for Mr. Panetti had appealed a denial from the trial court last week where they sought a stay of execution and appointment of counsel and mental health experts in order to allow for a meaningful opportunity to assess Mr. Panetti’s competency for execution.

The appeal, which was appealed on Tuesday to the federal district court, argues that based on incomplete records recently obtained by Mr. Panetti’s counsel and a recent visit by counsel with Mr. Panetti, Mr. Panetti’s condition has deteriorated. Mr. Panetti is hearing voices, believes that a listening device has been implanted in his tooth and that TDCJ wants him to ‘shut up’ about corruption on death row and to stop him from preaching the Gospel.

Mr. Panetti’s attorneys say that this new information provides sufficient evidence that Mr. Panetti can make a showing that he is not competent for execution and that he is therefore entitled to appointed counsel, funding for a mental health expert and investigator, and a stay of execution so that he can prepare an adequate motion under Art. 46.05 raising his competency for execution claim.

Opening CCA Appeal Brief filed on November 20, 2014: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQYk5pYU5yek1wejdqaUQtLWJsOFpVY1RZVFpN/view?usp=sharing

CCA Motion for Stay of Execution filed on November 20, 2014:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQUGRobFU0UDEtOWRlREk0ekNyblpIdjBDSlBF/view?usp=sharing

The appeal states:

“In denying Scott Panetti’s request for a stay of execution, assistance of counsel, and funding for a mental health expert and investigator, the trial court made precisely the same mistake that Judge Stephen B. Ables made in this case over a decade ago – a mistake that, the United States Supreme Court held, violated bedrock principles of due process. In Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007), the Supreme Court reached two conclusions that squarely address the issue this Court now faces. First, the Supreme Court found that the preliminary showing of incompetency dictated by Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), is neither onerous nor requires an inmate to present evidence that answers the Ford inquiries. Instead, the inmate need only make a sufficient showing of possible merit to warrant a more thorough exploration by the court. Second, the Supreme Court confirmed that, once an inmate has made this preliminary showing, the Due Process Clause and the Eighth Amendment require the court to give the inmate the tools needed to meaningful develop and present evidence of incompetency. Panetti, 551 U.S. at 952.”

“It is a bitter twist that the trial court is again depriving Mr. Panetti of the due process rights the Supreme Court announced in this very case seven years ago.”

“Mr. Panetti made the preliminary showing that triggers the due process protections of Ford and Panetti. Without first being afforded that rudimentary due process, Mr. Panetti cannot make the requisite Article 46.05 showing. Accordingly, this Court should conclude that Mr. Panetti is constitutionally entitled to a stay of execution, the appointment of counsel, and funding to retain a mental health expert and an investigator to assist him in preparing his Article 46.05 motion.” (pp. 36-38)

CASE BACKGROUND:

Three-Decade History of Severe Psychosis and Delusions

Mr. Panetti has suffered from extreme mental illness for over 30 years. He was hospitalized a dozen times for psychosis and delusions in the six years leading up to the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

The first time Mr. Panetti showed signs of being afflicted with a psychotic disorder was in 1978, over 14 years before the crime. During his multiple hospitalizations, doctors diagnosed him with chronic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder and proscribed antipsychotic medication.

In 1986, Mr. Panetti first succumbed to the delusion that he was engaged in spiritual warfare with Satan. In an affidavit his first wife signed to have him involuntarily committed, she testified that he was obsessed with the idea that the devil was in the house. He engaged in a series of bizarre behaviors to exorcize his home, including burying his furniture in the backyard because he thought the devil was in the furniture.

Two years before the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death, Mr. Panetti was involuntarily committed for homicidal behavior and was found to be suffering from delusions and psychotic religiosity.

The crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death also had the hallmarks of a severely disturbed mind. While off his antipsychotic medication, Mr. Panetti shaved his head and dressed in camouflage fatigues before going to his in-laws’ home and committing the offense for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Detailed information about Mr. Panetti’s medical history can be found in this mental illness timeline starting in 1978 that shows how Mr. Panetti’s mental health degenerated over the years, including how in 1986, the Social Security Administration made a determination that Mr. Panetti was so disabled from schizophrenia that he was entitled to government benefits:https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1LFfr8Iqz_7c3kzWW5nRFBib1U/view?usp=sharing

Mr. Panetti’s Trial: ‘A Miserable Spectacle’

Despite being a paranoid schizophrenic, Mr. Panetti represented himself at his capital murder trial in 1995. Wearing a cowboy costume with a purple bandana and attempting to call over 200 people to the witness stand, including the Pope, John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ and his own alter ego, Mr. Panetti was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Mr. Panetti’s statements in court, at both the guilt and sentencing phase, were bizarre and incomprehensible. He took the witnesses stand and testified about his own life in excessive and irrelevant detail.

Mr. Panetti announced that he would assume the personality of “Sarge” and recounted the gruesome details of the crime in the third person. He gestured as if pointing a rifle to the jury box (visibly upsetting the jurors) and matter- of-factly imitated the sound of shots being fired.

Fixed Delusion that Texas is Trying to Kill Him for Preaching the Gospel

In 2004, Texas tried to execute Mr. Panetti, but a federal judge court stayed the execution and the United States Supreme Court ultimately found the Fifth Circuit’s standard for determining competency to be executed unconstitutional in Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007). Notwithstanding that decision, Texas continued to contest Mr. Panetti’s competence to be executed. In 2013, the Fifth Circuit again found him competent to be executed – despite the District Court’s findings that he has a severe mental illness and suffers from paranoid delusions.

If his execution date is not withdrawn, he will go to the execution chamber convinced that he is being put to death for preaching the Gospels, not for the murder of his wife’s parents, and the retributive goal of capital punishment will not be served.

Emerging Consensus Against the Imposition of the Death Penalty Against the Severely Mentally Ill

On November 24, 2014, attorneys for Mr. Panetti filed a challenge to the use of the death penalty against persons with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, both of which were diagnosed in Mr. Panetti decades ago.

The habeas petition, which was filed in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQRWZpbWdQZkV3d0xRTFI2RWE3M21WZXcyYlQ0/view?usp=sharing

Mr. Panetti’s Subsequent Motion for a Stay of Execution can be accessed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxR5nee8pBYQeVdkODE0VWpsN3RERW80LXUtVUFmTHhBakg4/view?usp=sharing

Citing new research from a forthcoming empirical study, today’s filing argues that actual sentencing practices reveal an emerging consensus against use of the death penalty in cases where the defendant has severe mental illness. The new research, which examines the capital sentencing practices of 7 states, finds that only “5 out of 68, or 7.35% of defendants found [guilty but mentally ill] have been sentenced to death.”  (p. 45)

Furthermore, “the most recent instance in which a defendant found [guilty but mentally ill] was sentenced to death took place at least 20 years ago,” and none of those defendants has been executed. (pp. 45-46)

The new research “provides a critical element that has been missing from previous arguments that people with severe mental illness deserve the same constitutional protection when facing the death penalty that Atkins provides to people with intellectual disability. No court previously presented with this argument has had before it any evidence of actual relevant sentencing practices.” (pp. 43)

“The infrequency with which the death penalty is imposed on the class of death-eligible mentally ill defendants…demonstrates that a consensus has emerged against the imposition of the death penalty on mentally ill defendants.” (p. 47)

Other objective factors that demonstrate the national consensus against the death penalty for people with severe mental illness include the opinion of mental health professionals, and “[n]early every major mental health association in the United States has published policy statements recommending an outright…ban on the death penalty for offenders with severe mental illness….” (pp. 48-49)

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), NAMI’s Texas affiliate, the American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America, Disability Rights Texas, dozens of other mental health experts and the American Bar Association, which in 2006 approved a resolution urging preclusion of the death penalty for those who were mentally ill at the time of their crimes, are actively urging officials in Texas to stop Mr. Panetti’s execution.

The filing notes that “the imposition of the death penalty on people with severe mental illness, like people with intellectual disability [who are protected from the death penalty], does not serve the goals of deterrence and retribution because of their reduced moral culpability.” (p. 62). Furthermore, “defendants with severe mental illness have less ability to meaningfully assist counsel, have demeanors which can alienate a jury, and can less effectively testify on their own behalf.” (p. 64)

This was certainly the case with Mr. Panetti who “displayed ‘bizarre, ‘trance-like’ and ‘scary’ behavior throughout his trial. He asked nonsensical questions about Native Americans…and flipped a coin to decide whether to strike a potential juror.” (pp. 64-65)

“During the punishment phase, Mr. Panetti called only one witness, his standby counsel, before delivering an unintelligible punishment phase closing argument:

You know, just to touch on the spat and wasn’t cuffed, but I was bronc and Sheriff Kaiser and I had a talk, well, of the fact that I’m no longer American citizen, and because of my buckaroo case.  I believe city people love horses, too, and I don’t consider myself anything above or below anyone, but I do consider myself me, and when I made my last confession at Veterans Hospital to Father De la Garza, I wasn’t Catholic. (p. 30) 

Widespread Support for Clemency

On November 12, 2014, Mr. Panetti’s attorneys filed a clemency petition with Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles along with letters supporting clemency from the leading Texas and national mental health organizations and professionals such as the American Psychiatric AssociationMental Health America and Disability Rights Texas; criminal justice and legal professionals including former Texas Governor Mark Whitestate Attorneys General and former judges and prosecutors55 Evangelical leaders from Texas and nationally and 7 retired and active Bishops from the United Methodist Church and other faith leaders; Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and the American Bar Association, among others.

On November 18, 2014, worldwide support for Scott Panetti reached a groundswell with new calls for clemency from prominent individuals and organizations from across Texas and the world, including the nation’s largest grassroots advocacy organization on mental illness, National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); NAMI’s Texas affiliate; ten legislators from Texas; former U.S. Representative Ron Paul; several more Evangelical Christians; and the European Union, which represents twenty-eight nations.

The clemency petition can be accessed through Texas Defender Service’s web page on the case: http://texasdefender.org/scott-panetti/

To access the letters supporting clemency, additional legal documents and other case resources, including a video, please go to: texasdefender.org/scott-panetti.

Additionally, a petition started by Mr. Panetti’s sister, Vicki Panetti, has been signed by over 88,000 concerned individuals. https://www.change.org/p/gov-rick-perry-spare-my-brother-s-life-a-severely-mentally-ill-man-on-death-row

To speak with Mr. Panetti’s attorneys, Kathryn Kase of Texas Defender Service and Greg Wiercioch of Texas Defender Service and University of Wisconsin Law School, or if you would like to speak with mental health and other experts, please contact Laura Burstein at Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com or 202-626-6868 (o) or 202-669-3411 (c).

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08 May 2014 ~ Comments Off

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Narrowly Dismisses Robert Campbell Appeal

This afternoon, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Robert Campbell’s application for post-conviction relief by the narrowest of margins – a vote of 5 to 4.  The appeal raised important claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and evidence of intellectual disability. Campbell is scheduled to be executed next Tuesday, May 13, 2014.  Below is a statement from Campbell’s attorneys regarding today’s decision from the state’s highest criminal court.

Statement from attorneys for Robert Campbell regarding the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision this afternoon to dismiss Mr. Campbell’s application for post-conviction relief

“We are deeply disappointed that a majority of the Court chose to wash its hands of its responsibility for Mr. Campbell’s fate.  The CCA’s decision today refuses any remedy for the abysmal performance of an attorney the CCA itself appointed.  That outcome mocks the Legislature’s promise that every condemned prisoner will have one full and fair opportunity for post-conviction review.  It is now likely that there will never be any meaningful examination of whether Mr. Campbell received effective legal assistance at trial.

“More gravely troubling, however, is the majority’s refusal to require a hearing on the urgent question of whether Mr. Campbell has mental retardation, and thus may not legally be executed at all.  Every piece of substantial evidence supports that diagnosis, and a comprehensive evaluation by a highly qualified psychologist has now confirmed it. Judge Alcala, in her powerful dissenting opinion today, correctly called the evidence of Mr. Campbell’s mental retardation ‘compelling.’  And she zeroed in on the fundamental unfairness of today’s decision – the reason why this evidence was not available in 2003, when the CCA first turned away Mr. Campbell’s mental retardation claim. Namely, State officials affirmatively misled Mr. Campbell’s lawyers when they told him they had no records of IQ testing of Mr. Campbell from his time on Death Row.  That was a lie.  They had such test results, and they placed Mr. Campbell squarely in the range for a diagnosis of mental retardation.  As Judge Alcala puts it, ‘It would be unjust to penalize [Mr. Campbell] for not uncovering such a falsehood previously, when he had no basis to believe that a falsehood had been conveyed to him. . . . This Court should not base its decisions that determine whether a person will live or be executed based on misinformation or wholly inadequate information.’

“It now falls to the federal courts and Governor Perry to ensure that Mr. Campbell, a person with mental retardation, will not be executed as a result of this disturbing violation by State officials of his most basic due process rights.”

May 8, 2014

– Attorney Robert C. Owen, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law

– Attorney Raoul D. Schonemann, Capital Punishment Clinic, The University of Texas at Austin School of Law

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To arrange an interview with attorney Robert Owen, please contact Kristin Houle at 512-441-1808 (office), 512-552-5948 (cell) or khoule@tcadp.org.

Read coverage of the court’s decision from the Austin American-Statesman.

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20 November 2013 ~ Comments Off

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Dismisses Duane Buck Petition

Today, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Duane Buck’s appeal for a new, fair sentencing hearing free from racial bias. With today’s decision, Texas has once again reneged on the clear and unequivocal promise made by former Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn that Mr. Buck would not face execution based on a racially biased death sentence. Despite this promise, Mr. Buck is now at grave risk of execution in Texas.  Read the statement from his attorneys below.

Buckfinal-01The ongoing Duane Buck case is an egregious example of racial bias in the criminal justice system. In 1997, at Mr. Buck’s capital sentencing hearing for the murders of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler in Harris County, Texas, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger because he’s black. The prosecutor then relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of the death penalty, and the jury sentenced him to death.

At first, there was hope Texas would rectify this mistake. Three years after Duane Buck was sentenced to death, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn identified seven cases in which Texas relied on testimony linking race to future dangerousness, including Mr. Buck’s. Recognizing the error, Cornyn promised not to oppose new sentencing hearings for these seven defendants, and Texas upheld this promise in all of the cases — except for Duane Buck’s.

Now, given another chance to remedy the situation, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals has dropped the ball again, denying Duane Buck’s appeal for a new sentencing hearing. With today’s ruling, the Harris County District Attorney’s office could seek an execution date any time, and Duane Buck’s life is at stake once more.

As might be expected, this shocking case — and its most recent development — have provoked a large outcry in Texas and across the nation, from the civil rights community, faith leaders, elected officials, former prosecutors and judges, and numerous other prominent individuals. Even one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors and the surviving victim in the case have called for a new, fair sentencing hearing.

Take Action Today!

If you have not done so already, please join more than 50,000 Texans and concerned citizens nationwide and across the world in signing a petition by one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors, Linda Geffen, which urges the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to agree to a new sentencing hearing and, with this latest development, to not set an execution date.

Mr. Buck’s life was spared by the U.S. Supreme Court before his September 2011 scheduled execution. Two U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed that Mr. Buck’s death sentence requires review because “our criminal justice system should not tolerate” a death sentence “marred by racial overtones.”  In today’s ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, three of the nine appeals court judges joined in a dissent, as noted in the statement from attorneys below.

For more information about Mr. Buck’s case, please go to: http://www.naacpldf.org/case-issue/duane-buck-sentenced-death-because-he-black

Watch a powerful, 10-minute video about Mr. Buck’s story, “A Broken Promise in Texas: Race, the Death Penalty and the Duane Buck Case” here: http://youtu.be/tD6WWN38ZGc

Statement from Attorneys for Duane Buck in Response to Today’s Ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

“We are gravely disappointed that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has dismissed Duane Buck’s appeal and failed to recognize that his death sentence is the unconstitutional product of racial discrimination. As noted by three members of the Court, ‘[t]he record in this case reveals a chronicle of inadequate representation at every stage of the proceedings, the integrity of which is further called into question by the admission of racist and inflammatory testimony from an expert witness at the punishment stage.’  These judges recognized that this outcome ‘jeopardizes both the integrity of the underlying conviction and of this Court’s judicial processes’ and deprives Mr. Buck of ‘one full and fair opportunity to present his claims.’

“With today’s decision, Texas has once again reneged on its promise to ensure that Mr. Buck would not be executed pursuant to a death sentence that was the unfair product of a prosecutorial appeal to racial bias and stereotype. ,For this reason, more than one hundred civil rights leaders, clergy of various faiths, former judges, former prosecutors, and thousands of individuals in Texas and across the world, have joined our call for a new, fair, and colorblind sentencing for Duane Buck. We now urge the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to respect these calls and refrain from seeking an execution date for Mr. Buck. We will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the important due process and equal protection issues at stake in Mr. Buck’s case, and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will intervene to right this unequivocal wrong.”

- Attorney Kate Black, Christina Swarns, Director of the Criminal Justice Practice at NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, and Kathryn Kase, Executive Director of Texas Defender Service

November 20, 2013

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24 October 2013 ~ Comments Off

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Overturns Conviction of Manuel Velez

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the conviction of Manuel Velez, who was sentenced to death in Cameron County in 2008 for the murder of one-year-old Angel Gabriel Moreno. The baby was the child of Velez’s new girlfriend, Acela Moreno, who served five years of a ten-year sentence for her role in the baby’s death.  Velez’s defense attorneys failed to present critical medical evidence of injuries that the baby had sustained in the weeks and months before his death – injuries that Velez could not have caused as he was working on a construction site in Tennessee at the time.

Last year, the court threw out his death sentence after determining that the jury heard misleading testimony from an expert witness regarding the circumstances of incarceration if Velez was sentenced to life in prison.

According to a lengthy feature article in Texas Monthly, (“Reasonable Doubt: The Manuel Velez Case,” first published on March 6, 2013), “On April 2, 2013, state district judge Elia Cornejo Lopez ordered that Manuel Velez receive a new trial. The Cameron County judge agreed with Velez’s appellate attorneys, who have argued that Velez received a woefully poor defense at his 2008 capital murder trial. … Lopez noted that the trial attorneys did not ‘adequately investigate and present evidence that Moreno had a history of abusing her children and that she admitted to striking Angel on the day in question.’”

The Brownsville Herald reports that “the court overturned Velez’s conviction because of ineffective assistance based on these facts” (“Appeals court throws out Velez’s capital murder conviction,” October 24, 2013).

The Cameron County District Attorney’s office is weighing its options in deciding how to proceed with the case.

Read more about the court’s ruling in the Brownsville Herald.

Learn the background story on this case from Texas Monthly.

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11 September 2013 ~ Comments Off

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rules that death row inmate cannot be forcibly medicated

A ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today, September 11, 2013, finds that a state district judge does not have the authority to order Texas death row inmate Steven Staley to be forcibly medicated in order to render him competent to be executed.   Staley has been on death row since 1991; he was convicted of the 1989 murder of Robert Read at a Fort Worth restaurant.

According to the Austin Chronicle (“Court Rules Judge Didn’t Have Right to Forcibly Medicate Death Row Inmate”, Sept. 11, 2013), “The ruling, by a 5-4 majority of the court, vacate’s a trial court’s order to forcibly medicate death row inmate Steven Staley, but is silent on whether the Texas Constitution would absolutely forbid the execution of someone forcibly drugged or whether Staley is too ill to be executed at all.”

Staley was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic soon after he arrived on death row.  At times over the last few years, he has been forced to take anti-psychotic drugs against his will.  Staley believes that the drugs are poisoning him.  State officials argue that this forced medication is necessary in order to render him competent to be executed.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ford v. Wainwright that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment.  The Ford decision left the determination of insanity and competency for execution up to each state, however, and it has not prevented the execution of scores of offenders with severe and persistent mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Read more about today’s ruling in the Staley case from the Austin Chronicle.  Previous posts on his case are available here.

From Brian Stull with the ACLU:
The Texas CCA ruling in Staley v. Texas is at:

http://www.cca.courts.state.tx.us/OPINIONS/HTMLOPINIONINFO.ASP?OPINIONID=24578

Additional coverage of the ruling, courtesy of Steve Hall at StandDown Texas:

Texas Tribune:

http://www.texastribune.org/2013/09/11/court-rules-mentally-ill-inmate-incompetent-execut/

Texas Tribune/Fort Worth Star Telegram:

http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/09/11/5154220/death-row-inmate-cant-be-medicated.html?rh=1

 

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05 December 2012 ~ Comments Off

CCA Overturns Conviction of Cathy Lynn Henderson, Orders New Trial

Today the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the recommendation of Judge Jon Wisser that Cathy Lynn Henderson should receive a new trial based on evolving scientific understanding of infant head trauma.  Henderson was convicted and sentenced to death in Travis County for the 1994 murder of three-month-old Brandon Baugh.  While she was baby-sitting him, Brandon suffered from a head injury that prosecutors said was deliberately caused by Henderson but that she claimed was an accident.

According to the Austin American-Statesman (“Henderson granted new trial in baby’s 1994 death,” December 5, 2012), former medical examiner Roberto Bayardo “testified at Henderson’s trial that it was ‘impossible’ to attribute the boy’s extensive head injury to an accidental fall. Later, Bayardo said advancements in the understanding of pediatric head injuries indicate that relatively short falls onto a hard surface could produce injuries similar to those he discovered during Brandon’s 1994 autopsy.”

The Austin Chronicle reports that three judges disagreed with the appeal court’s finding (“Henderson Granted New Trial,” December 5, 2012):

Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Judge Michael Keasler joined in Judge Barbara Hervey’s conclusion that just because science has changed and evolved – and thus, cast doubt on a conviction – that doesn’t mean that there is any “ground on which relief should be granted.”

The case now returns to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who must decide whether to retry Henderson – and more importantly, whether to again seek the death penalty.

Henderson is one of 10 women on death row in Texas.

Read more in the Austin Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman.  (Thanks to Steve Hall at StandDown Texas for providing these links.)

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07 August 2012 ~ 1 Comment

Family of author John Steinbeck “deeply troubled” by scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson

Texas is scheduled to execute Marvin Wilson later today for the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams in Beaumont. Although Wilson has an I.Q. of 61, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded, Wilson faces lethal injection because the state of Texas uses unscientific guidelines to determine which defendants with intellectual disability are protected from execution. These guidelines, called “the Briseño factors,” after the decision that announced them, rely on stereotypes about mental retardation to exclude all but the most severely incapacitated from their constitutional protection against execution.

 

In formulating the “the Briseño factors,” a Texas court wrote that “most Texas citizens would agree that Steinbeck’s Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt from execution. But does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?”

 

John Steinbeck’s son has released the following statement about the Marvin Wilson case and the Briseño decision, which cites his father’s work:

 

“On behalf of the family of John Steinbeck, I am deeply troubled by today’s scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson, a Texas man with an I.Q. of 61. Prior to reading about Mr. Wilson’s case, I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication, i.e, Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men, as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. My father was a highly gifted writer who won the Nobel prize for his ability to create art about the depth of the human experience and condition. His work was certainly not meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous, and profoundly tragic. I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.”

 

– Thomas Steinbeck

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Marvin Wilson’s scheduled execution has been condemned by numerous prominent groups and organizations, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Texas Senator Rodney Ellis, Texas Representative Lon Burnam, and others. The New York Times and the Dallas Morning News have editorialized that the execution must be stopped.

 

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06 August 2012 ~ Comments Off

Disabilities Advocate, State Legislator Join Calls to Stop the Execution of Marvin Wilson

Over the weekend, a number of media outlets featured calls to stop the execution of Marvin Wilson.  The State of Texas is scheduled to execute Wilson on Tuesday, August 7, for the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams in Beaumont.  Advocates contend that his execution should be prohibited by the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision Atkins v. Virginia, which categorically barred the death penalty for persons with mental retardation (now referred to as intellectual disabilities) but left the determination of these disabilities to each state.  The Texas Legislature still has not amended the state’s death penalty statute to comply with Atkins.  Instead, Texas uses a set of unscientific guidelines, called “the Briseño factors,” which are not medically or clinically recognized diagnostic tools for identifying intellectual disability and were developed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals based on stereotypes.

An opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle from Margaret A. Nygren, the executive director of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (“Texas should not execute intellectually disabled man,” August 3, 2012), states that:

Intellectual disability is a medical condition and should be assessed by a specialist. Unfortunately for its citizens, Texas evaluates defendants for intellectual disability using factors that are not used by medical professionals, and are based on false stereotypes that exclude all but the most severely incapacitated. Evaluating individuals using these factors, called the Briseño factors, is fundamentally incompatible with the scientific and clinical understanding of intellectual disability.

When Wilson came before the state of Texas to prove his intellectual disability and seek his constitutional protection from execution, the state did not present any evidence against him having an intellectual disability. The state did not provide any expert witnesses (or witnesses of any kind) to refute the court-appointed, board-certified expert’s diagnosis of mild mental retardation. However, because Texas unfairly uses unscientific factors to cherry-pick which people with intellectual disability will be exempt from execution, Wilson was essentially deemed “not disabled enough” to receive the constitutional protection he is entitled to because of his medical condition.

 

Nygren goes on to state that:

The Supreme Court has affirmed this constitutional protection as the law of the land, in every state, and for every individual with an intellectual disability. Texas should respect the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities and commute Wilson’s sentence from death to life without the possibility of parole.

Read the full op-ed in the Chronicle.

An editorial by the New York Times calls on the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, stating that “The court should accept Mr. Wilson’s case for review and end Texas’s illegal defiance of its explicit holding that the death penalty for the mentally retarded is unconstitutional.” (“Mentally Retarded and on Death Row,” August 4, 2012)

State Senator Rodney Ellis, from Houston, also has weighed in on this case, asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay Wilson’s execution. In a press release, he states that “Mr. Wilson’s case is a clear example of how Texas law continues to violate the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. … Before we administer the ultimate penalty we must utilize standards to ensure we are in compliance with the Constitution of the United States.”   Read more in coverage from the Texas Tribune (“Advocates: Don’t Execute Mentally Retarded Man,” August 3, 2012).

A good overview of the case is available from the Huffington Post (“Marvin Wilson, Texas Man With 61 IQ, To Be Executed In Days,” August 3, 2012).

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