death penalty execution Ford v. Wainwright incompetency Marcus Druery mental illness Panetti Texas U.S. Supreme Court

Marcus Druery Denied Full Competency Hearing

Earlier today, July 24, 2012, Brazos County District Court Judge J.D. Langley denied a motion to hold a full hearing on Marcus Druery’s execution competency claim. Druery is scheduled to be executed next Wednesday, August 1, despite diagnoses from the State’s own mental health professionals that he is severely psychotic. He was sentenced to death in 2003 for the murder of  Skyyler Browne in Brazos County.  His competency to be executed has never been considered on its merits by any court.

Druery has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and suffers from delusions and auditory hallucinations.  According to the Texas Tribune (“Lawyers Argue Inmate Incompetent for Aug. 1 Execution,” July 23, 2012):

Since 2009, Druery has been in and out of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Jester IV unit for psychiatric treatment, and staff members have diagnosed him with schizophrenia with “psychotic, delusional symptoms.” He refuses to take anti-psychotic medication, because he doesn’t believe that he is mentally ill and worries that the medicine contains poison, [Druery’s attorney Kate] Black said.

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.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in another Texas death penalty case, Panetti v. Quarterman, that an inmate must possess a “rational understanding” of the reason for his or her execution.  Druery’s attorneys have presented excerpts from hundreds of letters written by their client to demonstrate that he lacks such an understanding of the connection between his crime and punishment.

Judge Langley today did not rule Mr. Druery competent for execution, but rather ruled that under the Texas statute, Mr. Druery was not entitled to a competency hearing. Under the Texas statute, in order to get to a competency determination, a threshold showing must be made. Because the judge ruled that a threshold had not been met, no competency determination has ever been made.

Texas Defender Service attorneys plan to appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to require Judge Langley to hold hearing.  In response to today’s denial, attorney Kate Black issued the following statement:

“We are disappointed that Mr. Druery continues to be denied a full and fair hearing about his competency to be executed. Mr. Druery’s execution would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel or unusual punishment because he suffers from a psychotic disorder that renders him incompetent to be executed. The State’s own mental health professionals have diagnosed him as schizophrenic, noting that he suffers from delusional and paranoid thoughts and auditory hallucinations. Mr. Druery has no rational understanding of the connection between the crime for which he was convicted and his execution. Texas must allow Mr. Druery’s counsel  the opportunity to fairly present the evidence of Mr. Druery’s mental illness so that he may establish his incompetence for execution. We intend to appeal today’s denial to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.”

-Kate Black, attorney for Marcus Druery
July 24, 2012


Read more about this case in the following media outlets:

Bryan College-Station Eagle: “Judge denies motions to deem death row inmate unfit for execution,” July 24, 2012; and “Lawyers argue Druery unfit for execution,” July 14, 2012

Public News Service-TX: “Court Questions Constitutionality of Upcoming Texas Execution,” July 16, 2012

Texas Tribune: “Hearing Denied for Inmate Set for Execution Aug. 1,” July 24, 2012

Houston Chronicle: “Bryan judge says next week’s execution can go forward,” July 24, 2012



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