execution Ford v. Wainwright Ft. Worth incompetency severe mental illness Tarrant County

Severely Schizophrenic Man Doesn’t Know Why He Is In Prison, Scheduled for TX Execution Next Week

Kwame Rockwell is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on Wednesday, October 24, despite his lifelong history of severe mental illness that predates the crime, fixed delusions that snakes and demons surround him and invade his body, and the fact that the state’s own doctors have sent him to the psychiatric unit on numerous occasions and have treated him with anti-psychotic drugs virtually without interruption since the time of his conviction.

In briefs recently filed with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), attorneys for Mr. Rockwell argue he “does not have a rational understanding of the fact that he is scheduled to be executed on October 24 or the reason that he is to be executed.” (Appeal from the Tarrant County 4th Criminal District Court’s Order Denying Relief in Article 46.05 Proceedings p. 23)

Mr. Rockwell faces execution despite a recent federal court decision that he meets the threshold showing to merit funds to develop his claim, a showing similar to that required under state law to entitle Rockwell to a competency hearing with state-funded mental health experts. If next week’s scheduled execution is not stayed, Mr. Rockwell will be executed without the court-ordered competency evaluation.

As Mr. Rockwell’s current appeal to the CCA states:

“It is uncontested that Rockwell is not competent to be executed. Kwame Rockwell suffers from schizophrenia. He does not understand he is to be executed on October 24. He has no understanding that he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2012. He does not comprehend that he has been incarcerated on death row since 2012 or even that he is presently incarcerated in a Texas prison.” (pp. 1-2)

Mr. Rockwell’s Appeal to the CCA from the Tarrant County 4th Criminal District Court’s Order Denying Relief in Article 46.05 Proceedings can be accessed here:

Mr. Rockwell is Too Mentally Ill To Be Executed
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has repeatedly housed Mr. Rockwell in its psychiatric unit and administered both anti-psychotic drugs as well as drugs used in the treatment of schizophrenia. (p. 17) Additionally, Mr. Rockwell has an extensive family history of mental illness with twelve family members who have been diagnosed with mental illness (p. 6)

Evidence of Mr. Rockwell’s mental illness includes:

  • Mr. Rockwell dropped out of college because “he could not sleep at college because he thought snakes were going to come into his room.” (p. 9)
  • In August 2010, following a suicide attempt, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice transferred Mr. Rockwell to a hospital where he was diagnosed with “paranoid delusions” and “psychosis.” (p. 12)
  • While on death row, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has chosen to place Mr. Rockwell in a psychiatric unit for the majority of the time (pp. 14-15)
  • In 2013, state doctors at the prison psychiatric unit diagnosed Mr. Rockwell as “schizophrenia, Chronic, Paranoid type” (p. 16)
  • The most recent information about Mr. Rockwell’s severe mental illness comes from forensic and clinical neuropsychologist Dr. John Fabian, who interviewed Mr. Rockwell on July 26, 2018. He concurs with state doctors that Mr. Rockwell has schizophrenia. (p. 28)
  • Dr. Fabian also notes that Mr. Rockwell “does not understand or appreciate where he is, the nature of his charges, why he is in prison, or the nature of his punishment.”  (p. 28)

On October 5, 2018, a federal court found that attorneys for Mr. Rockwell had met the showing to merit funds to more fully develop Rockwell’s claim. Mr. Rockwell’s attorneys then arranged for Dr. Fabian to complete a full mental health evaluation of Mr. Rockwell on October 29, 2018. On October 8, 2018, attorneys filed a motion for a stay of execution in trial court in order to allow time for the mental health evaluation. However, the trial court ruled on October 12, 2018 entered an order finding that Mr. Rockwell had not raised a substantial doubt of his competency to be executed and denied his request for a stay. The case is now before the CCA.

Mr. Rockwell’s Execution Would Be Unconstitutional
In Ford v. Wainwright (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court established that the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of those prisoners “who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it.” Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 422 (1986)

Constitutional law about the execution of persons with severe mental illness was further clarified in the Court’s 2007 Panetti v. Quarterman decision, which found that “a proper Ford inquiry must probe the prisoner’s rational understanding of his punishment, the reason for it, and the role his lack of rationality plays in preventing or distorting that understanding to the point at which the execution no longer serves the purpose intended, thus violating the Eighth Amendment. As the Supreme Court emphasized, ‘[a] prisoner’s awareness of the State’s rationale for an execution is not the same as a rational understanding of it. Ford does not foreclose inquiry into the latter.’” (p. 26-27)

In other words, the Court’s requirement under Panetti v. Quarterman (2007) is for a prisoner to possess a rational understanding of the state’s reason for punishing him. Mr. Rockwell does not possess such an understanding. As his attorneys state,

“Dr. Fabian visited Rockwell on July 26, 2018 – less than three months ago – and asked Rockwell why he was sentenced to death. Rockwell does not know; he does not understand he was sentenced to death because he was convicted of capital murder. Instead, as he explained to Dr. Fabian, Rockwell believes that demonic beings erected the walls in which he is incarcerated because Rockwell is God. It is Dr. Fabian’s belief that Rockwell does not understand or appreciate the nature of his punishment.”

Mr. Rockwell’s attorneys are asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to find that Mr. Rockwell has made a threshold showing that his case merits a competency hearing – either through its own authority or by reversing the trial court’s decision. If the court does not stop the execution, Texas is scheduled to put a severely mentally ill man to death in an unconstitutional execution.