death penalty Ford v. Wainwright incompetency Jonathan Green severe mental illness Stay of execution Texas U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit

Federal Judge Grants Stay of Execution to Jonathan Green

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas has stayed the execution of Jonathan Green, who was scheduled to be put to death on Wednesday, October 10 for the 2000 abduction and murder of Christina Neal in Montgomery County (“Federal judge stops execution this week in Texas,” October 8, 2012).  Judge Atlas ruled on an appeal from Green’s attorneys challenging a state district judge’s decision two years ago that he was mentally competent for execution.  Green reportedly suffers from schizophrenia for which he receives no medication.  He received a last-minute stay of execution in 2010.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Atlas said her ruling was concerned ‘only with the question whether Green is entitled to a stay of execution and not with the ultimate question of whether he is incompetent to be executed.’

‘It is clear from the record that, at a minimum, the trial court prevented Green from presenting testimony by treating mental health professionals, relied on an order solicited from and drafted by the state to which Green had no opportunity to object, and applied at least one incorrect legal standard,’ Atlas ruled.

Atlas left open the possibility of holding an evidentiary hearing on Green’s competency, writing in her ruling that while Green didn’t fail to develop the factual basis of his claim, ‘rather, he was prevented from doing so.’

She said the state court ‘unreasonably applied’ Supreme Court precedents and failed to provide Green due process.

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.

Hours after Judge Atlas issued her ruling, the Attorney General’s Office announced plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Read more about the stay of execution and background about the case in the Houston Chronicle here and here.

More information about the case of Jonathan Green is available also in the Austin Chronicle (“The View from Death Row,” October 5, 2012).

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