Monday, July 30, 2012

High court stays execution of mentally ill inmate

On Friday the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did what a Brazos County state district judge was unwilling to do. It stayed the scheduled execution of Marcus Druery.

Mr. Druery was convicted of the 2002 murder of Skyyler Browne in Brazos County.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Druery's attorneys asked Judge J.D. Langley to stay the execution on the grounds that Mr. Druery was not competent to be executed due to his suffering from schizophrenia. Judge Langley quietly folded his hands, pinched the top of his nose, looked down at the attorneys, harumphed and said "no can do." (Okay, I made that part up.)

The question raised by Mr. Druery is whether it's cruel and unusual for the state to murder someone who has little understanding, due to a mental illness, that he is being killed.

Those in favor of the execution would argue that the only time a defendant's mental state is an issue is at trial - is he competent to stand trial and/or was he legally insane at the time of the offense. Whether he understands anything that's going on after his trial is not relevant to the plans of the state to murder him.

On the other hand, if the point in killing inmates is to punish the inmate and deter anyone else from acting in the same manner, does killing a man who can't grasp what's going on make any sense? If a person doesn't understand his life is being ended as punishment for killing another, is he really being punished?

We require a defendant to be aware of the reason he was arrested and why he's going on trial. We require that a defendant be capable of assisting his attorney in his defense. We require that a defendant entering a plea understand the legal rights that he is waiving. We require that the state prove the defendant possessed the appropriate mental state associated with the charged offense.

Where is it written that those due process safeguards vanish once a jury files back into the courtroom and pronounces guilt?

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