Monday, March 23, 2009

Death row inmate loses appeal on mental illness

An article released by the Associated Press ("Death row inmate loses appeal on mental illness"), March 22, 2009 states that death row inmate Jeffrey Wood has had his mental illness appeal rejected by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Wood, who was merely an accessory to capital murder, came within hours of being executed last August but was allowed time to be tested for mental illness. Here is the full article: 

A Texas death row inmate who came within hours of execution has lost an
appeal. His lawyers argued in a federal appeals court that he's too
mentally ill to be put to death.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal from Jeffery
Wood, 35, condemned for the January 1996 slaying of Kriss Keeran at a
convenience store in Kerrville, Texas.

Wood was convicted of capital murder even though he sat in the car outside
while his roommate, Daniel Reneau, fatally shot Keeran, 31. Under Texas
law, a participant in a capital murder is equally guilty of the crime.
Both men then robbed the store, taking more than $11,000 in cash and

Reneau was executed in 2002.

Wood was scheduled to die last August, but a federal judge delayed the
lethal injection hours before the execution so Wood could be tested to
determine whether he's mentally able to understand why he should be
executed. He does not have an execution date.

In the appeal to the New Orleans-based appeals court, Wood's lawyers
contended they needed a 2nd expert to examine Wood.

"Mr. Wood lacks a rational understanding of his death sentence and of the
reasons for his imminent execution," attorney Scott Sullivan said in his
motion filed earlier this week.

Prosecutors argued Wood already had an expert "of his own choosing."

Last summer, Sullivan said in a motion that he met with Wood and that the
prisoner told him he believed his trial judge was corrupt but would accept
a $100,000 bribe and then deport him to Norway where he could live with
his wife. Sullivan said Wood also believed the government will pay him
$50,000 a year once he's released and that he's willing to give that money
to the judge.

The U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of prisoners determined to
be mentally disabled, but that protection has not extended to those with
mental illness.

(source: Associated Press)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Crazy but Sane"

That's how Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cathy Cochran has described Texas death row inmate Andre Thomas, who made national headlines last year after he reportedly plucked out his remaining eye and ate it (Thomas had plucked out his other eye while awaiting his capital murder trial). "Sanity" is a legal term that refers to mental status at the time of the crime; a defendant who knows the difference between right and wrong is deemed "sane."

Today the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Thomas' appeals, even though it recognized him as clearly mentally ill. Interestingly, Judge Cochran noted that the deaths for which Thomas was sent to death row could have been avoided because Thomas twice went to hospitals for help but
left voluntarily and couldn't be committed against his will.

Here is the full article from the Associated Press ("Texas Judge: Eye-Plucking Inmate 'Crazy' but Sane," March 18, 2009):

A condemned Texas inmate who removed his only eye and ate it in a bizarre outburst several months ago on death row is ''crazy,'' yet sane under state law, a judge wrote in an appellate court ruling Wednesday that rejected his appeals.

Andre Thomas raised 44 claims in his petition to the state's highest criminal court, challenging his conviction and death sentence for the murder of his estranged wife's 13-month-old daughter five years ago in Grayson County in North Texas.

His wife and their 4-year-old son were killed in the same attack. The victims were stabbed and their hearts were ripped out. Thomas, 26, of Texoma, walked into the Sherman Police Department, admitted to the killings and said God told him to commit them.

The nine-member Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously upheld Thomas' conviction and punishment.

Thomas ''is clearly 'crazy,' but he is also 'sane' under Texas law,'' Judge Cathy Cochran wrote in a 14-page statement accompanying the court's brief order.

Among claims in the appeal, Thomas' attorneys argued that instructions to his trial jury were incorrect regarding the law on voluntary intoxication, that the instruction should not have been given because it suggested his drug and alcohol use and not insanity were responsible for his actions, and that his trial attorneys were ineffective because they should have known the instructions were improper.

At Thomas' trial in Sherman in 2005, defense lawyers said the killings were the result of insane delusions caused solely by Thomas' mental disease. Jurors agreed with prosecutors, who argued his psychosis was caused or aggravated by his voluntary use of alcohol, drugs and prescription drugs.

''There was ample evidence to reject an insanity defense and support a jury finding that (Thomas) knew that his conduct was wrong at the time he murdered his wife and the children,'' Cochran wrote. ''There was also evidence that (Thomas) did not know his conduct was wrong at the time. This was a
quintessential fact issue for the jury to decide, and it did so.''

Cochran wrote that although ''reasonable people might well differ on the questions of whether (Thomas) was sane at the time he committed these murders or competent at the time he was tried, those issues were appropriately addressed by the defense, the prosecution, trial judge, and the jury during
the trial.''

While in the Grayson County Jail five days after his arrest, Thomas plucked out his right eye. A judge subsequently ruled he was competent to stand trial.

Last December, a death row officer at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice found Thomas in his cell with blood on his face and had him taken to the unit infirmary. Thomas told officials he had pulled out his remaining eye and ate it.

He was taken to a hospital for treatment, then was transferred to a prison psychiatric unit.

There was no reference to the second eye removal in the court opinion.

Thomas was convicted of killing 13-month-old Leyha Marie Hughes. Also slain March 27, 2004, were his wife, Laura Christine Boren, 20, and their son, 4-year-old Andre Lee.

''This is an extraordinarily tragic case,'' Cochran wrote, saying the deaths could have been avoided because Thomas twice went to hospitals for help but left voluntarily and couldn't be held without legal authority.
The Per Curiam order is at:
Judge Cochran's concurring opinion is at:

(Thanks to Steve Hall for providing the links.)
More information about Andre Thomas is available here , here , and here.

Tennessee Convict may be Re-evaluated for Competency

According to The Tennessean, Paul Dennis Reid may have his competency re-evaluated. Additionally, a petition has been filed with the Davidson County Criminal Court alleging that Reid had ineffective assistance of counsel during his trial for the murder of two restaurant workers. ("Lawyer says Reid is delusional", March 17, 2009). Here is the full article:

The attorney representing convicted killer Paul Dennis Reid is convinced the death row inmate is delusional.

During a post-conviction hearing in Davidson County Criminal Court, attorney Kelly Gleason asked that Reid's mental competency be re-evaluated.

"He thinks he's getting out of jail on June 1," Gleason said. "He thinks I'm an actress, not an attorney, and he's requested that I take him shopping at the Oak Ridge Mall for clothes, shoes and other hygiene products he might need once he gets out."

Reid was convicted of killing seven people at fast-food restaurants in Nashville and Clarksville in 1997.

Gleason, an assistant post-conviction defender, has represented Reid since August 2004 and maintains that he has never been competent.

"He was found in federal court to be incompetent," she said. "The state is choosing to ignore it."

But Davidson County Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman argued that Reid had been evaluated numerous times and was found competent. The most recent competency hearing was held in May 2008. At the time, Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn ruled that there wasn't enough evidence to show Reid was incompetent and that he should decide the course of his appeals.

In the courtroom Monday, both the defense and the prosecution declined to call witnesses for the post-conviction hearing, which centered on a petition filed by Reid in April 2003. In the case of the deaths of two workers at a Captain D's restaurant in Donelson, the petition argues that Reid had ineffective assistance of counsel.

Reid claimed to believe that he was under surveillance by secret government agencies and that his trial lawyers should have found the tapes that would prove his innocence.

He also claimed that his trial was not fair because the judge, the jury and all of the witnesses were scripted by the government to cause his death, the petition said.

Judge To Issue Ruling

Blackburn is expected to issue a written judgment in the Captain D's post-conviction petition within the next few months.

Gleason says if the petition is dismissed, she will appeal the decision.

Reid, dressed in a white Tennessee Department of Correction uniform and shackled at the wrists and ankles, sat quietly during the hearing. When it was over, Reid smiled and waved to several people before leaving the courtroom.

Since his conviction, Reid's execution has been stayed several times, most recently in 2006 when a federal judge intervened. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to lift the stay.

He is facing seven death sentences for killing seven people and injuring another in a 1997 crime spree in Middle Tennessee. He killed three people at a Nashville McDonald's, two at the Captain D's in Donelson and two store clerks at a Baskin-Robbins in Clarksville.

Monday, March 16, 2009

TX Death Sentence Overturned

According to The Daily News, Texas death row inmate Gaylon George Walbey has received a new sentencing hearing from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ("Death-row inmate could get new hearing," March 15, 2009). Here's the full article:

A convicted killer sentenced to die for the 1993 slaying of a college teacher will soon return to Galveston, where attorneys will decide whether to seek a new punishment hearing or permanently remove him from death row.

After 12 years lobbying the courts for his client Gaylon George Walbey Jr., defense attorney Brian Wice won a new punishment hearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Meanwhile, the National Alliance on Mental Illness continues to lobby against states imposing death-sentences in cases against the mentally ill, a situation that is not unique to Texas, said Ron Honberg, the organization’s legal director.

Walbey, 34, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child, repeatedly bludgeoned Marionette Beyah — his former foster mother and a Galveston College teacher — inside her island home May 4, 1993, authorities said.

No Supreme Court Review

With the assent of the state’s Office of Solicitor General and Galveston County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott decided not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision, said Thomas Kelley, a spokesman for Abbott.

Wice declined to discuss his negotiations with Sistrunk, but said Walbey, who is no longer under a death sentence, would likely return to Galveston soon where a decision on whether to impose a life sentence or hold a new punishment hearing would be forthcoming.

Roger Ezell — who now works for Sistrunk — failed to investigate “a cornucopia of mitigating circumstances about (Walbey’s) horrific upbringing and background that would have led at least one juror to reject a death sentence,” Wice said.

Prosecutors gave Ezell, who defended Walbey, a mass of mitigating material, such as medical records and records from juvenile court, school, child services and health and human services, Wice said.

The records “painted a portrait of Gaylon’s upbringing and background that even the conservative Fifth Circuit described as ‘nightmarish,’” Wice said.

Ezell said a federal judge and lower appellate court upheld the death sentence, but a state district court and federal magistrate ruled in Wice’s favor, ultimately leading to the higher appeals court’s ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court has with previous death-penalty cases raised the question whether mentally ill defendants understand the nature of the death penalty enforced upon them, Honberg said.

Scott Louis Panetti was convicted of capital murder in Texas in the 1992 death of his in-laws, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a temporary halt to Panetti’s death sentence and remanded the case for further consideration, saying Panetti was sentenced to die despite a well-documented history of mental illness. Panetti remains on Texas’ death row.

‘Not Unique To Texas’

Panetti represented himself and subpoenaed for his trial Jesus, former President John F. Kennedy and Pope John Paul II, Honberg said.

“This is not unique to Texas,” Honberg said. “We’ve followed cases in Virginia, Georgia, Indiana and other states as well. There are four states, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky, that have legislation pending or are considering legislation to reduce the application of the death penalty where serious mental illness is involved.”

Brain disorders have a profound impact on a person’s comprehension of reality, Honberg said.

Walbey was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a very young age, although it doesn’t appear that he suffers from it now, Wice said.

Beyah’s Death Remembered

Sistrunk, who tried the case and argued for the death penalty, said he remembered the circumstances surrounding Beyah’s death as if it were yesterday. These cases stay with you, and your victims stay with you, too, Sistrunk said.

“I still remember arguing to the jury how Ms. Beyah was repeatedly beat over the head by the defendant with a fire extinguisher, and that not having killed her, she was then stabbed repeatedly with multiple knives,” Sistrunk said.

One of the knives broke off in Beyah’s back, Sistrunk said.

“The defendant then tried to cut her throat, and that not having killed her, the defendant began choking her with an electrical cord,” Sistrunk said. “Finally he just left her there on the floor of her home, breathing her last breath, as he stepped over her and dug in her purse for her car keys.”

Decision By August

The decision on whether to seek a new punishment hearing for Walbey or to impose a life sentence must be made by mid-August, Sistrunk said.

“We’ve begun our review of the evidence from the first trial and are still awaiting evidence that was offered by defendant’s counsel during the appellate process,” Sistrunk said. “We’ve also contacted the family of Ms. Beyah to begin some discussions on our options at this point.”

Sistrunk could remember only one Galveston County case, that of Santiago Varelas, where a death sentenced was reversed. The case was retried in 2002, and the decision was made not to pursue the death penalty. Varelas was found guilty again and sentenced to life in prison, Sistrunk said.

“Having been personally involved in it and remembering it all, the temptation is to make a quick decision to seek death,” Sistrunk said of Walbey’s case. “But there is no substitute for reviewing everything that is available to us now, and that is what we will be doing over the next few months.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Update on Paul Devoe

According to the Austin American-Statesman, capital murder defendant Paul Devoe has been found competent to stand trial:

"A staff psychiatrist at North Texas State Hospital on Feb. 24 declared Paul Devoe competent to stand trial.

Devoe is accused of shooting to death a man at a Marble Falls bar, four people in a Jonestown house and a woman in Pennsylvania in August 2007 before being arrested in New York.

He has been indicted on capital murder charges in Travis County in the Jonestown deaths of an ex-girlfriend’s daughter, Haylie Faulkner, 15 and Haylie’s friend Danielle Hensley, 17. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Two doctors, one hired by the prosecution and another by the defense, declared Devoe incompetent to stand trial in December. Judge Brenda Kennedy sealed Devoe’s mental health reports, saying that their public disclosure would violate Devoe’s right to due process and a fair trial."

The article is available here.

See earlier posts about Devoe here and here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Patient Dumping in San Antonio?

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- The San Antonio Express-News reports nearly 600 patients discharged from the San Antonio State Hospital have been dropped off at the downtown Greyhound bus station since January 2008.

One of them -- Raquel Padilla -- was found dead three days later in a concrete ditch -- having never gotten on that bus back to Del Rio.

The 54-year-old suffered from schizophrenia and mild retardation but was in the care of the state hospital for the seriously mentally ill until workers decided to send her home by dropping her off at the bus station.

Her brother Juan Padilla says she wasn't capable of taking care of herself, especially in the big city.

The San Antonio State Hospital superintendent, Bob Arizpe, said employees were following procedure when they dropped Padilla off, and a staff member saw her standing in line for the bus on Dec. 20.

Other state mental hospitals also drop patients at bus stations in comparable numbers says Emily Palmer -- a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

But no exact figures were available.

The story is available here.