Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is Mentally Ill Inmate Competent to be Executed?

Here's an article from The Scranton Times-Tribune regarding Pennsylvania death row inmate George Banks ("Banks' mental capacity will be at issue at hearing," August 11, 2008), who suffers from severe mental illness. A hearing will take place later this week to determine whether Banks should be declared incompetent to be executed. He was found incompetent in 2006, but the state Supreme Court overruled the judge's decision.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that two death row inmates with mental illness can be forcibly medicated in order to render them competent to continue their appeals and face execution.

A full timeline of the case accompanies the article, excerpted below:

"George Banks sits in his cell at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford for days at a time, alone with the fantasies and delusions that have played in his psyche since before the 1982 killing spree that left 13 people dead in Wilkes-Barre and Jenkins Township, including five of his own children.

He often remains behind, locked away in his own world, during the hourlong period each day when he and the other inmates in the prison’s death row unit are permitted to leave the solitary confinement of their cells for exercise and recreation.

Banks, 66, has lived at SCI-Graterford, a maximum-security facility in Montgomery County, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, since 1985.

A competency hearing scheduled to begin Thursday at the prison could determine whether he dies there.

'You’ve got a man who is severely mentally ill, there’s no dispute on that,' Banks’ attorney, Luzerne County public defender Al Flora Jr., said. 'The only issue is whether he dies in prison as a result of lethal injection or whether he dies in prison as the result of a natural life.'

Banks has lived in the shadow of death since June 1983, when a jury convicted him of the murders of at least four girlfriends, his five children, ages 1 to 5, and four others, and then imposed a capital sentence.

He has survived on the strength of the appeals filed on his behalf in state and federal courts, and on the weakness of his own mental state.

Two years ago, Banks claimed God had granted him clemency and the U.S. government and the Islamic faith were conspiring against him.

In 2004, he claimed he was fighting a 'private war' with former President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern with whom Mr. Clinton had a sexual relationship.

Since his arrest in September 1982, Mr. Banks has attempted suicide at least four times and has gone on prolonged hunger strikes, including one in 2003 that caused his weight to drop more than 100 pounds.

Luzerne County Senior Judge Michael T. Conahan, who will preside over the competency hearing, must look beyond the delusions to determine Mr. Banks’ competency, Mr. Flora said.

The judge must weigh two questions: whether Mr. Banks understands he is under a sentence of death and that he will be executed, and whether he is competent to assist his attorneys in petitioning the state Board of Probation and Parole and the state Board of Pardons for clemency.

Judge Conahan ruled Mr. Banks incompetent on both criteria in February 2006, but that determination was overturned on appeal by the state Supreme Court because the judge had prevented a prosecution psychiatrist, Timothy J. Michals, from testifying.

'It is in my opinion that although Mr. Banks has a psychotic disorder, he has sufficient mental capacity to understand that he has been tried, convicted and sentenced to death as a result of the death of 13 people,' Mr. Michals said in a September 2005 report.

Mr. Michals said Mr. Banks had told him the conviction and death sentence, 'had been vacated by God and his continued incarceration and execution was the result of a wide-range conspiracy between the correctional officers, prosecutors and other government officials.'

Psychiatrists deemed Mr. Banks competent to stand trial in 1983.

Mr. Flora, using an insanity defense, described Mr. Banks at the time as 'delusional' and 'psychotic,' and suggested the 'torment and agony' of a childhood in an interracial home, coupled with living in a racist environment, had led 'to the destruction of George Banks.'

'Competency to be tried is different than competency to be executed,' Mr. Flora said last week. 'You can go through a whole round of appeals on his competency to be executed and you could come back four years later and his condition could have deteriorated.'

If Judge Conahan rules Mr. Banks competent to be executed, Mr. Flora said he could challenge the decision in the state Supreme Court and, if unsuccessful, take the case to the federal court system.
'You would be looking at years of appeals,' Mr. Flora said.

If Judge Conahan rules Mr. Banks incompetent, the decision must be affirmed by the state Supreme Court before Mr. Banks is removed from death row. ... "

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