Court weighs Texas death row inmate's sanity claim
Here is the reality of Gerald Eldridge's death row world: He spends 23
hours a day in a 10-by-6-foot steel cubicle equipped with bunk, toilet,
sink and table; meals are passed through a slot in the door; standing on
his bed, he can glimpse a slice of sky through a tiny rectangular window.
Convicted of killing a Houston woman and her young daughter, this has been
his life for more than 15 years.
Here is how Eldridge says he perceives his world: He is married to a woman
named Jennifer, and she and their 7 children live with him in prison; his
brother arrives daily to take him to his job building boats; someone
poisons his food with bleach, battery acid and excrement.
Houston lawyer Lee Wilson argues this apparent disconnect suggests
Eldridge set to be put to death Tuesday is seriously mentally ill and
may not be competent to be executed. Prosecutor Inger Hampton responds
that Eldridge is just pretending to be crazy to avoid execution, just as
he feigned mental illness in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid trial.
Girl and her mother killed
The case, with its intricate legal arguments and dueling expert reports,
now is before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is considering
Wilson's request for additional psychological testing for his client.
Eldridge, 45, was sentenced to die for the Jan. 4, 1993, murder of his
former girlfriend, Cynthia Bogany, 28, and her daughter, Chirrisa Bogany,
9. Trial testimony indicated that Eldridge, who earlier had been sentenced
to 8 years in prison for attempted murder, shot the girl between the eyes
at close range after kicking his way into the victims' apartment. He then
chased a man from the residence before returning to fatally shoot Cynthia
Bogany as she begged for her life. Eldridge also wounded his son, Terrell,
9, in the shoulder.
Wilson buttresses his argument against execution with a report by Houston
psychologist Mary Alice Conroy, who, while stopping short of saying the
killer is incompetent, calls for a thorough investigation.
"Gerald Eldridge may be suffering from a significant psychotic disorder
the result of which is confusion, poor contact with reality,
hallucinations and possible delusional thinking," she wrote in her report
to the court. "In such a state he would be highly unlikely to understand
the concept of execution or its rationale."
Under state law, a prisoner is competent to be executed only if he
understands that he is to be put to death and why.
Conroy notes that Eldridge told her his food was being poisoned and that
guards were showing videos of his family to other inmates and forging
letters on his behalf.
When she attempted to question him about his coming execution, Eldridge
responded, "Everybody has their own channel; they are trying to change my
channel; it is a lie."
Experts say he's faking
In another document, Wilson wrote: "I have told him he is in a prison unit
for those condemned to death. And I have told him he has an execution date
for Nov. 17, 2009. But he only hears the words and does not appreciate
Prosecutor Hampton, though, responds with an evaluation of Eldridge by
Houston psychiatrist Dr. Mark Moeller.
"Mr. Eldridge's presentation is not consistent with any type of mental
disorder," Moeller wrote. "His answers and assertions are bizarre and not
congruent with mental disorders. His demeanor appeared theatrical and
contrived. His responses and affect seemed purposeful and measured in a
way unlike that of a severely mentally ill person."
Hampton notes in her filing that five experts concluded that Eldridge was
feigning mental illness during examinations to determine whether he was
competent to stand trial.
In 2006, however, Eldridge was diagnosed as psychotic and prescribed
anti-psychotic medication after he was admitted to the University of Texas
Medical Branch-Galveston. The examining psychiatrist noted Eldridge was
"paranoid, says that people mess with his food."
In 2002, prison authorities reported Eldridge lost 60 pounds after
consistently flushing his meals down the toilet.
(source: Houston Chronicle)