Another Texas injustice: The case of Kelsey Patterson, mentally ill man facing execution. February 2004
There is no doubt that Kelsey Patterson shot Louis Oates and Dorothy Harris, and there would appear to be little doubt that mental illness lay behind this tragic crime. He made no attempt to avoid arrest – after shooting the victims, he put down the gun, undressed and was pacing up and down the street in his socks, shouting incomprehensibly, when the police arrived.
In 2000, a federal magistrate judge wrote that “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. Because of his lack of cooperation, it has been difficult for mental health professionals to determine with certainty whether he is exaggerating the extent of his delusions, or to determine whether he is incompetent or insane. All of the professionals who have tried to examine him agree that he is mentally ill. The most common diagnosis is paranoid schizophrenia.”(3) Nevertheless, the magistrate judge recommended that Kelsey Patterson’s death sentence stand. Two years later, Dr Grigson, dubbed “Dr Death” because of his unswervingly pro-prosecution testimony in capital cases, was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association, for his unethical, unscientific testimony in such cases.(13)
The crime against Louis Oates and Dorothy Harris was not the first time that Kelsey Patterson had shot people in apparently motiveless acts of violence. In 1980, he shot a fellow worker in a Dallas hospital where he worked. Three years later, he shot another co-worker, this time at a pizza restaurant in Palestine. In both cases, the victims survived. In each case, Kelsey Patterson was found incompetent to stand trial because of his mental illness. After he received treatment and was restored to competency, he was not prosecuted because he was considered to have been unable to conform his behaviour to the law, in other words that he was legally insane at the time of the offence under Texas law in force at the time. If Kelsey Patterson is put to death(2), it would not be the first time that the Texas system had, in effect, buried its own failure in its execution chamber.
Larry Robison (8), who was executed in January 2000, had suffered from paranoid schizophrenia long before committing the crime for which he was sentenced to die. His family had tried to obtain help for him, but were turned away because he had not yet turned violent. James Colburn (9) was also a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic whose family had tried, unsuccessfully, to get appropriate health care before the murder for which he was sent to death row. He was executed on 26 March 2003. In another recent case, Scott Panetti (10) received a 60-day stay of execution shortly before he was scheduled to be executed in Texas on 5 February 2004. He had been hospitalized for mental illness many times before the crime. In a high-profile US case in 1982, John Hinkley was sent to mental hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. The case led to several states amending their laws to limit the insanity defence. They included Texas. Previously, to be found not guilty by reason of insanity in Texas, defendants had to show that because of mental disease or defect at the time of the crime, they were 1) unable to conform their behaviour to the law; or 2) did not know that their conduct was wrong. In other words, a defendant could be found insane if they had an understanding that their action was wrong, but were unable to control their behaviour in conformity with the law because of their mental illness.
(2) Kelsey Patterson will be 50 years old on 24 March 2004.
(3) Patterson v Johnson. Magistrate Judge’s proposed findings and recommended disposition. US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division, 27 October 2000.
(8) Time for humanitarian intervention: The imminent execution of Larry Robison, AMR 51/107/99, July 1999. http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR511071999
(9) James Colburn: mentally ill man scheduled for execution in Texas, AMR 51/158/2002, October 2002, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR511582002 and Texas: In a world of its own as 300th execution looms, AMR 51/010/2003, January 2003 http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR510102003
(10) “Where is the compassion?” The imminent execution of Scott Panetti, mentally ill offender, AMR 51/011/2004, January 2004. http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR510112004
(13) He was expelled “for arriving at a psychiatric diagnosis without first having examined the individuals in question, and for indicating, while testifying in court as an expert witness, he could predict with 100% certainty that the individuals would engage in future violent acts” In Texas, a death sentence can only be imposed if the jury concludes that the defendant would probably commit acts of criminal violence that would constitute a future threat to society, the so-called “future dangerousness” question. Texas prosecutors seeking death sentences have frequently called upon “expert” witnesses to persuade the jury of the future dangerousness of the defendant in question. The most notorious of these “experts” has been Dr Grigson, who has testified for the state in over 140 capital trials in Texas. He repeatedly told capital juries of his absolute certainty that the defendant would commit future acts of violence. In the vast majority of the cases, the jurors voted for death.
PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/042/2004, 16 February 2004
UA 66/04 (AMR 51/031/2004- Death penalty / Legal concern, ,
USA (North Carolina) George Franklin Page (m), white, aged 63,
27 February 2004, George Page has received a stay of execution. He was due to be put to death in the early hours of 27 February for the murder of Police Officer Stephen Amos in 1995. George Page’s lawyers had challenged the state’s lethal injection procedure, on the basis that he has severe vein problems which may require the execution team to perform “cut-down” surgery in order to locate a vein in which to insert the needle. Following separate state-level litigation, a state judge also granted a stay of execution, on 25 February, following revelations that the state psychiatrist who testified at George Page’s trial had overlooked evidence that he had brain damage.
PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/087/2006, 01 June 2006
UA 155/06 Death penalty / Legal concern
USA (Tennessee) Paul Dennis Reid (m), white, aged 48
A clinical psychologist testified that Paul Reid suffered from serious mental illness, including chronic schizophrenia, and had brain damage. A clinical neuropsychologist explained that Reid had suffered a number of serious head injuries as a result of childhood abuse and accidents. A neurologist explained that brain scans had revealed several abnormalities in Reid’s brain, including evidence of traumatic injury. The defence experts related how Paul Reid had long suffered from delusional beliefs, including that he was under government surveillance and control. The state presented a forensic psychiatrist who testified that in his opinion Paul Reid was malingering, although he conceded that Reid had brain damage and a history of mental illness, including delusions. In an affidavit to the courts in support of her efforts to stop the execution, Paul Reid’s sister has said that her brother “is severely mentally ill. He does not think or act in a rational manner. It seems that everything he does is guided by his belief in a government conspiracy against him to bombard him with ‘scientific technology’. When he has talked about giving up appeals and being executed, he talks about ending the torture of the scientific technology”. A neuropsychiatrist, for example, has stated that “Mr Reid’s delusion, that he has been under the control of a government-directed surveillance and influence, impels, invades, and guides his daily activities as well as decision-making processes. The lawyer who was assigned the case before Paul Reid dropped his appeals also signed an affidavit in May 2006 stating that Reid’s mental illness “substantially affects his capacity to make knowing, intelligent, and voluntary decisions about his legal situation. I have known Paul Reid for over twenty months and during that entire time, his delusional beliefs have been persistent and have pervaded his thinking about all aspects of his life.
At least 119 of the 1,024 men and women executed in the USA since judicial killing resumed in 1977 went to their deaths after dropping their appeals. Many of these so-called “volunteers” had histories of mental illness. A condemned prisoner who drops his appeals has to be competent to do so, but the protections in such cases have proved minimal.
PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/018/2003
EXTRA 10/03 Death penalty / Legal concern 10 February 2003
USA (Federal) Louis Jones (m), black, aged 52
Former soldier Louis Jones is scheduled to be executed by the US Government on 18 March 2003 in the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was sentenced to death in October 1995 for the murder of a white woman, Tracie Joy McBride, eight months earlier. Louis Jones confessed to the crime, and took investigators to where Tracie McBride’s body was located. Since the crime had begun on a US military facility, it was prosecuted as a federal rather than a Texas case. At the sentencing phase of the trial, the federal prosecutor presented reasons for execution, while the defence presented evidence against a death sentence. This mitigating evidence included Louis Jones’s lack of criminal record, his remorse, the severe physical and sexual abuse he had suffered as a child, his achievements during his 22-year military career for which he was decorated, and various mental problems, including possible post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences in the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 and the 1990/91 Gulf War. Following his return from the Gulf War, Louis Jones had displayed significant behavioural and personality changes. Louis Jones’s clemency petition, which is seeking commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment without parole, raises the claim that he suffers from “Gulf War Syndrome”. A leading expert on this issue has submitted that Louis Jones sustained brain cell damage in deep brain structures as a result of exposure to chemicals and toxins during his military service in the Gulf War in 1990/91.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, The execution of mentally ill offenders
Overview: A gap in the ‘evolving standards of decency’. The underlying rationale for prohibiting executions of the mentally retarded is just as compelling for prohibiting executions of the seriously mentally ill, namely evolving standards of decency. Indiana Supreme Court Justice, September 2002(3)