Friday, August 31, 2007

Pete Earley to Speak in San Antonio

Pete Earley, a former Washington Post reporter and father of an adult son who has bipolar disorder, will be giving a lecture and signing his book "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness." The event will be held at the Crowne Plaza Riverwalk Hotel, 111 E. Pecan St. in San Antonio, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5. The free event is part of the Family Preservation Institute's conference, and is sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill San Antonio. For more information, call NAMI at 734-3349.

You can read the first chapter of this compelling and informative book at In "Crazy," Earley presents a history of the nation's mental health sytem and explains how our country has moved from institutionalizing those with mental illness in state hospitals to incarcerating them in our jails and prisons. He spends considerable time in Miami-Dade County and presents heartbreaking case studies of individuals who have been failed by the public mental health system. It's a must read for anyone interested in the intersection of mental health and criminal justice issues!

Monday, August 27, 2007

New Mural in San Antonio Urges Compassion for Those with Mental Illness

Public art dedication

Web Posted: 08/26/2007 01:10 AM CDT
Melissa Ludwig

San Antonio Express-News

A young father whose internal demons push him away from his daughter. A mother on so much medication she cannot care for her children.

These stories of people struggling with mental illness guided local artist Adriana Garcia's brush as she created "Brighter Days" — a 20-foot-by-70-foot mural on the outer wall of the Westside Mental Health Clinic at 806 S. Zarzamora St.

On Saturday, Garcia and her crew capped five months of grueling labor with a dedication ceremony for the mural, a striking work of public art that stands as a plea for compassion for those battling depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.

San Anto Cultural Arts, a nonprofit group on the West Side, organized and paid for the effort through its community mural program.

Read the full article at:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Justice Talking: Rights of the Mentally Ill

Justice Talking: Rights of the Mentally Ill

The public radio show "Justice Talking" has released a new program focused on the law and mental illness, with a particular emphasis on issues related to civil commitments. It features interviews with journalist Pete Earley, the author of Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness, attorney John Stanley, with the Treatment Advocacy Center, and civil rights attorney Michael Allen, the former director of the fair housing program at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

The program also features the stories of individuals - and their families - living with mental illness.

A transcript will soon be available.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fifth Circuit Overturns Death Sentence; New Trial to Consider Mitigating Evidence

Court overturns Billie Wayne Coble's death sentence

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

By Tommy Witherspoon
Waco Tribune-Herald staff writer

"A year after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of execution for Billie Wayne Coble and 18 years after he reportedly bragged about killing three people in Axtell, the New Orleans-based appeals court has overturned Coble’s death sentence and awarded him a new trial.

In a 28-page opinion issued Tuesday afternoon, the judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the two special issues that Coble’s McLennan County jury had to answer for the death penalty to be assessed — whether he commited murder deliberately and would be a future danger to society — were unconstitutional as they were applied to him.

The special issues posed to the jury came from instructions under the Texas death penalty statute at the time. The 5th Circuit’s ruling reflects changes made since then that limit the scope of the death penalty and allow a life sentence to be imposed if Texas juries believe there is sufficient mitigating evidence to preclude the imposition of the death penalty.

Coble, now 58, has been on death row since his 1990 conviction in the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged wife’s parents, Robert and Zelda Vicha, of Axtell, and her brother, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha.

The court rejected Coble’s claims he was the victim of ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. However, it reversed the death sentence because the judges said Coble’s jury was not allowed to give proper weight to mitigating factors that could have changed their answer to the future dangerousness issue. ...

State appeal expected

Segrest said Tuesday he expects the attorney general’s office, which represents the state in federal death penalty appeals, to ask the 5th Circuit to reconsider its ruling.

Coble’s attorneys offered testimony at trial about Coble’s troubled childhood and his traumatic experiences in combat while in Vietnam.

5th Circuit Judge Emilio M. Garza wrote that the jury might have placed more relevance on those experiences if given the opportunity by the wording of the special issues.

“'With respect to his mental illness, there was at least some evidence introduced at Coble’s trial that his post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorders were amenable to treatment,'” Garza wrote. “'Based on this evidence, the jury might have concluded that Coble, if properly treated, would be less likely to commit criminal acts constituting a continuing threat to society.

“'Similarly, the jury might have reasoned that as Coble aged and became more chronologically removed from his difficult childhood and traumatic experiences in Vietnam, his troubled background would exercise a lesser degree of influence over his actions, thereby rendering him less of a future danger.'”

Read the full story at

Fifth Circuit Remands Panetti Case

Today, August 15, 2007, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case of Scott Panetti to the District Court for the Western District of Texas "for further proceedings consistent with the opinion of the Supreme Court." The Supreme Court had overturned the Fifth Circuit's decision to allow Panetti's execution to proceed, ruling that it had used “an improperly restrictive test” in determining that his severe delusions did not render him incompetent to be executed.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama, has never found a death row inmate incompetent for execution.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mental Health Public Defenders Office Helps Clients Cut Red Tape

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mental Health Public Defenders Office Helps Clients Cut Red Tape
By Mary Alice Robbins
Texas Lawyer

A 24-year-old brain-injured man who ran away from his parents at an Austin hospital spent four days in the Travis County jail on charges of resisting arrest and failing to properly identify himself to police officers whom the parents had asked to help find him.

The young man might have spent more time behind bars if the new Travis County Mental Health Public Defenders Office had not taken his case in June.

"One of our goals is to get people with mental illness out of jail," says Jeanette Kinard, the county's mental health public defender. ...

The young man's case is typical of the types of cases the mental health public defenders office handles. Kinard, a criminal defense solo in Austin for almost 20 years before Travis County hired her on April 1, says that since April 25, her office has represented clients in about 30 cases involving failure to identify, criminal trespass, family assaults and other offenses. "We only handle misdemeanors," Kinard says.

Jim Bethke, director of the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, says the Travis County office is the first stand-alone mental health public defenders office in the nation. Bethke says the task force awarded Travis County a $500,000 grant in November 2006 to start the public defenders office, which, at full staff, will have two attorneys, two social workers, two caseworkers and two clerical workers.

Travis County provided $125,000 for the office in the current budget year, Bethke says. The task force awarded a four-year grant that will reduce state funding by 20 percent each year of the grant period, as the county gradually increases its funding for the office, he says.

Read full article at

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Forum Criticizes Houston Police Dept.'s Mental Health Response, Aug. 7, 2007

Quanell X forum criticizes HPD mental health response
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Quanell X held a town hall meeting Monday in southeast Houston, hoping to call attention to mental health issues as he criticized the Houston Police Department's recent efforts to defuse crisis situations involving unstablepeople.

At least three people have been killed by HPD officers in the past several months, including last week's shooting death of Reginald Sumbler, 21. Sumbler, who called authorities July 31 and told them he planned to commit suicide, died during a standoff near his home in south Houston. HPD officials said the officers fired only after Sumbler pointed a pistol at them and shot in their direction.

"Is it safe to call HPD when you have mentally ill loved ones?" Quanell asked a crowd of about 100 at the New Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church at 12707 Cullen.A panel of mental-health professionals, lawyers and the families of people recently killed by HPD officers during confrontations answered questions about handling mentally unstable relatives. "It's a big responsibility for the family," Joseph L. Jefferson, a psychotherapist, said. "Make sure he takes his medications."

The forum also covered the process for HPD dispatchers to route emergency calls about mentally unstable people. Calls should be routed so police officers dispatched are trained to peacefully defuse the confrontations, Quanell X said.HPD Capt. Bruce Williams said about 500 officers are trained by the Crisis Intervention Team to respond to mentally ill suspects. He said HPD would liketo send a CIT-trained officers for all mentally ill suspects but does not have the manpower.
Learn more about the Crisis Intervention Team Model, which was pioneered by the Memphis Police Department in 1988 and has since been adopted in hundreds of communities around the United States.