Thursday, September 4, 2008

Effort to ban the death penalty for offenders with mental illness gains momentum in Kentucky

Here's an excerpt from a lengthy article that appeared on September 3 in LEO, the alternative weekly paper in Louisville, Kentucky. The article ("Crazy and Condemned - Kentucky Could Be the First State to Ban Executions of the Severely Mentally Ill") chronicles an emerging effort in Kentucky to secure a legislative prohibition on the death penalty for offenders with severe mental illness. Other states may also introduce legislation during their 2009 sessions.

"It was clear from the beginning Eugene Gall was guilty. It also was clear he was insane.

Driving through a Cincinnati suburb on the morning of April 5, 1978, Gall — a paranoid schizophrenic with a criminal past — spotted a young girl walking alone through the tranquil neighborhood. The 12-year-old girl was on her way to school.

Two hours later, a motorist driving down a stretch of rural highway in northern Kentucky noticed a red windbreaker on the side of the road and stopped to retrieve it. About a mile later, she noticed a textbook in the road and pulled over once again.

Assuming the lost items belonged to a student at the local elementary school, the woman called the principal to report finding the jacket and a book bearing the name Lisa Jansen, written neatly inside the front cover. The principal told her no student by that name attended the school.

Later that afternoon, television newscasts began reporting that Lisa Jansen was missing. By the time the woman called police to report what she had found, they already had a suspect: Eugene Gall.
Just hours after Jansen vanished, police responded to a report of robbery at a small grocery store in Gardnersville, Ky., a tiny town about 20 miles east of Interstate 71. Officers raced into the parking lot as Gall tried to exit, armed with a .357 magnum revolver and $112 from the register. Gunfire erupted, and Gall shot and injured two cops and a bystander before he was captured.

After reviewing Gall’s rap sheet, police questioned him about the missing girl.

In 1970, Gall had been charged with several counts of rape, but a judge found him mentally incompetent to stand trial. He spent 19 months in a mental institution where doctors treated him with anti-psychotic drugs. Eventually, Gall was deemed competent and he pleaded guilty to the charges — although he claimed not to remember the rapes — and spent five years in a state penitentiary.
When police asked Gall if he had any information about Lisa Jansen’s disappearance, he did not deny involvement. Instead, he insisted he could not recall his whereabouts that morning.

The next day, after police found the girl’s body alongside a remote creek in northern Kentucky, 30 miles from her home, Gall was charged with kidnapping, rape and murder. Ultimately, a jury in Boone County, Ky., convicted Gall and sentenced him to death.

'He was severely mentally ill and there was an insanity defense raised, but the jury did not go that way,' says Edward Monahan, a longtime defense lawyer who represented Gall on appeal years later. 'The problem is that juries are very rarely able to bring themselves to make that finding, probably because they fear the person’s release into society and their safety being in danger.'

The jurors undoubtedly saw a monster who — regardless of mental illness — committed a gruesome crime, and they were unwilling to risk sending Gall to a psychiatric facility because he might one day be released. It’s a pervasive fear that compels juries to send inarguably insane defendants not only to prison, but also to death row.

But a growing consensus of legal experts and mental health professionals are pushing for an end to executing the severely mentally ill, claiming the punishment is inappropriate and unconstitutional in cases where a person’s insanity likely led to a crime.

The movement is gaining momentum nationwide and in Kentucky, where state lawmakers are expected to consider a bill next session that would prohibit the execution of the severely mentally ill. If approved, Kentucky would become the first state to enact such a ban.

The law would apply only to a narrow pool of defendants, and would ensure that those convicted still are severely punished, as opposed to institutionalized. They could face life in prison without parole — just not execution.

'When someone behaves in a way that hurts other people substantially, there should be accountability, but the accountability should be based on the culpability of the individual,' says Monahan, who took over as the state’s chief public defender Sept. 1. 'Someone who is severely mentally ill has less ability to be accountable for their conduct. … The ultimate penalty ought not be applied to people who cannot fully control their behavior.'... ”

Read the article in full.

1 comment:

Brian Jansen said...

The "mental stability" of the defendant clouds the fact that evil is evil. Of course he wasn't mentally right. how could a mentally functional person do that to a little girl? you should have fried his ass while u had the chance, but apparently the ky courts thought it would be better to release him, and now they are talking about clearing his record. perhaps its the justice department and not the intelligence department that should consider changing their name.

Brian Jansen