Mental Illness News and Developments: 2004 - 2002

North Carolina Preparing to Execute Mentally Ill Man


Sammy Perkins is scheduled for execution in North Carolina on October 8, despite his mental illness and the fact that the jurors at his trial did not learn the extent of his disability. According to a press release from Perkins's attorneys:
"The jury never heard the full story of Sammy Perkins' mental disorder: A family history of psychiatric problems left its mark on Sammy Perkins. Several family members suffered from mental illnesses. In his late teens and early twenties, the time when bi-polar disorders are often discovered, Perkins was found ranting in public, sometimes completely naked. From a poor family, he was not able to get psychiatric help, treatment or medication. Bi-polar disorder, left untreated, is a debilitating mental illness, with wild mood swings, depression and manic highs during which the person can be out of touch with reality. As he self-medicated his moods and depression with cocaine, heroin and alcohol, the condition worsened. Myasthenia Gravis claimed Perkins as well. This autoimmune disease causes muscular weakness. Prescription Prednisone, given to Perkins to abate the symptoms, causes euphoria, hyperactivity and is highly addictive." (Press Release, Sept. 29, 2004, Attorneys Ed West: 910.254.4748 and Nora Hargrove: 910.763.7952).
UPDATE: Sammy Perkins was executed by the state of North Carolina the morning of October 8, 2004.


Texas Board Recommends Clemency on Eve of Execution


On the eve of the Kelsey Patterson's scheduled execution in Texas, the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 5-1 to recommend that Governor Rick Perry commute Patterson's death sentence to life in prison. In its rare recommendation for clemency, the Board noted that if Governor Perry refuses to grant clemency, Patterson, a mentally ill man who is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, May 18th, should receive a 120-day reprieve. The Board’s actions mark the first time in more than two decades that members have recommended a commutation to the governor at such a late state in a condemned inmate's case. Patterson has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic who, in the years leading up to his capital murder conviction, was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial on unrelated charges. His impending execution renewed the question of whether it is proper to execute someone who is mentally ill when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who is mentally retarded. (Associated Press, May 18, 2004) UPDATE: Despite the recommendation of the Pardons and Paroles Board, Governor Perry denied the clemency request, and Patterson was executed on May 18, 2004. See Clemency. Read Amnesty International's Report on Kelsey Patterson.


Seriously Mentally Ill Man Facing Execution in Texas


On May 18th, Texas plans to execute Kelsey Patterson, a mentally ill man who was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia more than a decade before he murdered two women in 1992. After the murder, Patterson wandered around dressed only in his socks. Although a jury found Patterson competent to stand trial, he repeatedly interrupted the proceedings to offer a rambling narrative about implanted devices and other aspects of a conspiracy against him. According to a new report from Amnesty International, Patterson's delusions did not allow him to understand what was going on or the ability to consult with his attorneys. In 2000, a federal judge echoed the concerns that have been raised about Patterson’s case, noting, “Patterson had no motive for the killings…he claims he commits acts involuntarily and outside forces control him through implants in his brain and body. Patterson has consistently maintained he is a victim of an elaborate conspiracy, and his lawyers and his doctors are part of that conspiracy. He refuses to cooperate with either; he has refused to be examined by mental health professionals since 1984, he refuses dental treatment, and he refuses to acknowledge that his lawyers represent him.” Nevertheless, the judge upheld Patterson's death sentence. The issue of executing the mentally ill has been raised in Texas on numerous occasions, most recently in February 2004, when another mentally ill man, Scott Panetti, received a 60-day stay of execution shortly before he was scheduled for execution. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly called for an end to the use of the death penalty against people with mental disorders. (Amnesty International Press Release, May 18, 2004).

Mentally Ill Man Convicted, Sentenced to Death In Three Hours


A Tennessee jury took only 2 hours to convict and another hour to sentence Richard Taylor to death. Taylor suffers from mental illness and defended himself. The trial took place 19 years after Taylor's original 1984 death sentence, which was set aside because he had inadequate representation and his complex mental-health history had not been fully investigated. In the years since that ruling, Taylor has been deemed incompetent to stand trial, but a judge recently ruled that Taylor could be retried for the crime if he took his anti-psychotic medications and was able to understand the legal proceedings against him. Before his trial, Taylor told reporters for The Tennessean that he hoped to be convicted in the belief that he would be allowed to stop taking the medications that he claims are fogging his mind, turning him into a woman and silencing the singing voices in his head. This belief continued as Taylor represented himself in the proceedings without any assistance from lawyers. Taylor - who suffers from borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia - put on no evidence, presented no closing argument, and wore sunglasses throughout the proceedings. He offered the jury no explanations or mitigating factors to consider before they sentenced him to death. (The Tennessean, October 17, 2003) See DPIC's report With Justice for Few: The Growing Crisis in Death Penalty Representation.

Virginia Schedules Execution of Mentally Ill Man


On May 28th, Virginia is scheduled to electrocute Percy Levar Walton, a Virginia death row inmate who does not know what year it is or that he cannot eat at Burger King once he has been executed. In a pending clemency petition to Virginia Governor Mark Warner and in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Walton's attorneys presented expert medical evidence, including tests by prison doctors, showing that their client suffers from schizophrenia and psychosis. They note that prison guards call Walton "Horse," short for "Crazy Horse," and that the guards stay at arms lengths to avoid his stench (a classic symptom of schizophrenia). In addition to Walton's mental illness, he scored a 66 on a recent IQ test and may be mentally retarded. A person with an IQ of 70 or lower is generally considered mentally retarded. (Associated Press, May 22, 2003) See Clemency.

Nevada House Votes to Spare Juveniles


Members of Nevada's Assembly overwhelmingly passed three legislative measures to reform the state's death penalty. The bills include a ban on the execution of juvenile offenders and those with mental retardation. The third piece of legislation adds the mitigating factor of mental illness to those factors considered by the sentencing jury and gives defense counsel the last argument during the sentencing phase of a capital trial. Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, chair of the interim committee that studied Nevada's death penalty and introduced the three measures, said, "I think it reflects the evolving opinion of Nevadans and the nation about how the death penalty can be applied fairly and appropriately." The bills now move to the Senate for consideration. (Las Vegas Sun, April 1, 2003) See Juveniles.

Supreme Court Grants Stay to Mentally Ill Texas Man


More than two hours after the originally scheduled time for the November 6th execution of Texas death row inmate James Colburn, the United States Supreme Court issued a stay of execution to allow attorneys time to request a full hearing. Lawyers for Colburn assert that his severe mental illness rendered him incapable of comprehending the proceedings against him or the reasons for his execution. Some of Colburn's trial jurors, including the foreman, have filed affidavits supporting the defense's claim. (Washington Post, November 7, 2002) See Supreme Court.

Execution of Juvenile Offender Scheduled in Missouri


Chris Simmons, who was scheduled to executed in Missouri on June 5,received a stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court. Simmons, a 17 year-old high school student at the time of the crime, was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and was also found to be suffering from schizotypal disorder, a mental illness. At trial, Simmons' attorney failed to present evidence of this mental disorder or evidence of Simmons' childhood abuse by his father. (Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, Action Alert, 4/13/02) Since the death penalty was reinstated, Missouri has executed one juvenile offender. See also the American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center's Web page on the Simmons case. UPDATE: On August 26, 2003, the Missouri State Supreme Court threw out Simmons' death sentence and resentenced him to Life Without Parole.

Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles Commutes Sentence to Life


Alexander Williams was granted clemency by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on February 25. A spokeswoman for the Board stated that Williams's mental illness, his status as a juvenile offender, and his history of abuse as a child were factors leading to the Board's decision to commute his death sentence to life without parole. The Board received many pleas for clemency, including those from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the European Union, the American Bar Association, and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. (New York Times, 2/26/02)