Capital Punishment & the State of Texas
By: Sean Drawdy
October 19, 2010
The state of Texas has been executing the mentally ill without any consequences. In a country where people are protected by the constitution of the United States Texas seems to be violating prisoners Eight Amendment rights, and apparently they are getting away with it.
Capital Punishment & the State of Texas
The state of Texas has executed 322 people since the death penalty was restored in 1976. The total number of executions throughout the entire country is only 910. With this unbelievable number of executions there are bound to be mistakes, but the state of Texas seems to ignore the law all together, especially when it comes to the mentally ill. The Eight Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and in 1986 the Supreme Court ruled against the execution of the mentally ill. After the Supreme Court ruling Texas is still executing the mentally ill, and getting away with it. This pattern of ignoring the law and executing mentally ill people has been well documented, but no one seems to do anything about it.
Kelsey Patterson was 50 years old, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1981. Patterson murdered Louis Oates, 63, and Dorothy Harris, 41, and witnesses saw him leaving the scene of the crime yelling and saying things to himself that no one could understand. He was also not allowed to sit in the courtroom at his trial because of outbursts of claims of implants and devices that controlled him. Even with this obviously disturbed behavior, and the documentation from 1981 that showed he was diagnosed mentally ill he was still sentenced to death. What is even more disturbing is that after his death sentence the state and federal courts upheld his conviction. However, in 2004 ???Patterson??™s case marked only the third time since 1999 that the Texas pardons board made a non-binding clemency recommendation for a death row prisoner. In that time the board rejected 119 clemency applications??? (Willing, 2004). The pardon would not matter because Rick Scott, the Governor, would allow the state to go forward with the execution. Kelsey Patterson was put to death by lethal injection, and was pronounced dead at 6:20pm on
May 18th, 2004. The real tragedy is that the case of Kelsey Patterson is not an isolated incident. The state of Texas seems to do this quite regularly without any repercussions. Not only is this a violation of the Eighth Amendment, but it is also sad because most of the mentally ill inmates on death row have no family or anybody there to really fight for them. These inmates are there for a reason, and a heinous one at that, but everyone deserves the protection of the constitution of the United States. When a person has been diagnosed with a mental illness, and commits murder that doesn??™t mean that they should get a free pass, but the United States has other ways to deal with these types of killers. For some reason Texas??™s way to deal with these individuals is to execute them.
Bobby Wayne Woods was convicted of raping, and killing an 11 year-old-girl in 1997. Bobby Woods is a little different because he doesn??™t have any history of mental illness, but he has been classified as mentally retarded. In the state of Texas anyone with an I.Q. of 70 or lower is considered mentally impaired. Bobby Woods had an I.Q. of 68 which should have made him ineligible for the death penalty.??? Mr. Wood??™s lawyers argued that his intelligence scores were low enough that he should be spared because of the Supreme Court ban in Atkins v. Virginia??? (McKinley, 2009). For some reason Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas are the only states where the I.Q. of 70 is considered retarded, but in California an inmate was deemed mentally impaired with a score of 84. Mr. Woods was illiterate and actually had to use a spelling list to write simple notes he sent home to his family (McKinley, 2009). Bobby Wayne Woods was executed on Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 at 6:48 pm. The state of Texas not only executes the mentally insane after letting them represent themselves in court, but also executes the mentally retarded. Something should be done to stop this.
James Colburn was a ninth-grade dropout, and a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. ???On death row, Colburn was frequently taken to the psychiatric ward, including a stay from June through September 2002. His lawyers say he was placed in treatment because he had been eating feces and drinking urine??? (Carson, 2003). Behavior like this is just ignored, and appeals are routinely denied. On March 26, 2003 James Blake Colburn was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville Texas.
Another death penalty case that is interesting is the case of Scott Panetti. ???Mr. Panetti, convicted in 1992 of fatally shooting his in-laws in the presence of his estranged wife and their three-year-old child, was a Navy veteran who was hospitalized 14 times for schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders in the decade before the crime. A jury nonetheless found him competent to stand trial, and the judge permitted him to represent himself??? (Greenhouse, 2007). How is a man with a history of schizophrenia and mental illness allowed to stand trial and represent himself That doesn??™t even seem rational especially since Panetti??™s actions in the courtroom during his trial proved he wasn??™t a stable person. ???At his trial, Mr. Panetti was often incoherent and tried to issue subpoenas to Jesus, the pope and John F. Kennedy??? (Greenhouse, 2007). A death penalty case is automatically appealed, but Mr. Panetti??™s appeals through the lower courts were all denied. Finally, ???an evidentiary hearing on Panetti??™s mental capacity was held on February 6th, 2008 before Federal District Court Judge Sam Sparks. The medical and scientific evidence presented before the court consisted of expert opinions from psychiatrists, psychologists, and neuropsychologists on behalf of the State and Mr. Panetti??? (Mental Illness, 2008). On March 26th, after the evidence was reviewed Scott Panetti was found competent to be executed. No execution date has been set.
Carson, D (2003, March 27) Texas Execution Information Center, New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2010 from http://www.txexecutions.org
Greenhouse, L (2007, Jan 6) Justice to Consider Impact of Mental Illness on Death Penalty, New York Times p.A12. Retrieved October 8, 2010 from http://find.galegroup.com
McKinley, J (Dec.4, 2009) Low I.Q. Murderer Executed In Texas, New York Times. Retrieved October 8, 2010 from http:// www.find.galegroup.com
Mental Illness (2008) Mental Illness, Scot Panetti, the International Justice Project. Retrieved October 18, 2010 from http:// www.internationaljusticeproject.org
Willing, R (2004, May 19) Mentally ill murderer put to death in Texas, USA Today. Retrieved October, 10, 2010 from http:// www.find.galegroup.com