Court of Criminal Appeals Grants Stay to Steven Staley

Update as of 5:00 PM on May 14:  We just learned that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted a stay of execution to Steven Staley.  The court did not provide a reason for the reprieve, saying only that it had determined the execution should be halted “pending further order by this court.”

Read more from the Associated Press:


Previous post:

Unless the courts intervene, on Wednesday, May 16, 2012, the State of Texas will execute Steven Staley for the 1989 murder of restaurant manager Bob Read, who was taken hostage during a robbery.  At issue is Staley’s competency to be executed, given his long-standing diagnosis of severe mental illness.

Staley was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic after he arrived on death row in 1991.  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.

In Texas, the state legislature did not establish a statute governing the process to determine competency to be executed until 1999, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has never found a death row inmate incompetent for execution.  Texas’ statute does not address the issue of forced medication, however, and some state and federal courts have allowed it.  According to Staley’s attorney, John Stickels, the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the question of involuntary medication for the purposes of execution.

Read coverage of the case from the Associated Press (as printed in the Houston Chronicle) and commentary from Slate.

Read an earlier blog post on Steven Staley, which includes links to more information about the death penalty and severe mental illness.

2 thoughts on “Court of Criminal Appeals Grants Stay to Steven Staley

  1. Read this story from the Texas Tribune regarding the stay granted to Steven Staley, which provides insight into the state of his mental health in recent years and in the days leading up to his scheduled execution:

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “On the heels of the stay, John Stickels, a lawyer for Staley, said that a psychologist on Monday spent three hours with the inmate at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston and had concluded that after two weeks without his medication he was no longer competent.

    ‘He is delusional again. He believes there is a big conspiracy orchestrated by the state and that everybody, everybody, is part of the conspiracy,’ Stickels said. ‘He believes that he was wrongfully convicted because of the conspiracy.'”

  2. Here’s an excerpt from an editorial about the case from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (“Steven Staley capital case reveals another glaring flaw in Texas death penalty,” May 16, 2012):

    “Staley certainly must be punished for wantonly taking a life. Is forcing him to take dangerous drugs just to make him competent long enough for the state to kill him the only way to accomplish the societal goal of enforcing the rule of “Thou shalt not kill”?

    If the answer is “yes,” that’s one more glaring flaw in Texas’ capital punishment system.

    If the answer is “no,” commuting Staley’s death sentence to life imprisonment would achieve punishment without the disturbing precedent that would be set by drugging him to administer a fatal injection.”

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