Tag Archives: mental competency

Stay of Execution Lifted for Marshall Gore

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

UPDATE: A new execution date has been set for Marshall Gore. He is now set for execution on July 10, 2013 at 6 p.m. 

According to Miami Herald reporter David Ovalle, the stay of execution for Marshall Gore, whose execution was halted Monday night, has been lifted and a new date will soon be set. (Update: here’s a link to the Herald story that’s now published.)

Gore, who received two death sentences for the 1988 killings of Susan Roark and Robyn Novick, was only an hour away from execution when a federal appeals court temporarily stayed the lethal injection.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the execution in order to hear arguments from Gore’s attorneys that he is insane, and therefore ineligible for execution. However, the court wanted to move quickly so they could come to a decision before the death warrant, signed in May, could expire.

Oral arguments were held today and Gore’s appeal was subsequently denied. Because the warrant is still active, a new execution date will likely be set quite soon.

Related Reading: 

Federal Court Halts Execution of Miami Killer Marshall Lee Gore

Execution of Marshall Lee Gore Set to Move Forward As Planned

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Tonight’s Execution: Elroy Chester, Texas

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

Elroy Chester’s is one of two executions scheduled for tonight. There is another scheduled in Florida, which you can read about here.

Update: Elroy Chester has been executed.

Elroy Chester was executed tonight by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, but a hearing scheduled for today could derail the state’s plan to carry out the sentence. Update: The Fifth Circuit has ruled against Chester and the motion to stay his execution has been denied. Barring a stay from a higher court, the execution proceeded as planned.

Chester was convicted of the 1998 killing of local firefighter Willie Ryman during a one-man crime spree in which he racked up more than two dozen crimes, including multiple killings. Chester confessed to killing Ryman when he was arrested for the crime, and pled guilty to capital murder. He was sentenced to death in September 1998.

While there is very little doubt about his guilt, the question in Chester’s case is whether he is mentally competent to be executed. His attorneys have argued that he is mentally retarded (I realize this is not the appropriate term for his condition, however it remains the standard term in matters of criminal liability) and thus ineligible for execution under the 2002 Supreme Court ruling deeming execution of the mentally impaired as “cruel and unusual punishment” and thus unconstitutional.

From Jordan Smith’s piece “Smart Enough to Die” for the Austin Chronicle:

Chester repeatedly scored below 70 on IQ tests – the generally accepted upper limit for mental impairment; spent almost his entire childhood in special education classes; never learned to read, to shop or cook, or to live on his own, or even to distinguish among colors, according to court testimony; and was placed in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Mentally Retarded Offenders Program during his previous stays in the pen. Nonetheless, the courts have repeatedly determined that Chester has not proven he is mentally retarded, and is thus eligible for execution.

At issue is the criteria by which Texas defines mental impairment, which I’ve covered before in my posting on last year’s execution of Marvin Wilson. Rather than the standards laid out in the 2002 Supreme Court case Atkins v. Virginia, Texas uses a set of criteria called the Briseño factors. From The Nation‘s Liliana Segura:

“Named after another Texas death row case, these seven non-clinical measures are meant to show whether a given defendant displays a “level and degree of mental retardation at which a consensus of Texas citizens would agree that a person should be exempted from the death penalty.” As an example, the Briseño court cited the fictitious character of Lennie Small, the mentally impaired migrant worker from John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men.

Up until now all Chester’s appeals have been denied, and while experts and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agree he is mentally disabled, the courts have ruled under Briseño that he is not disabled enough to be barred from execution. In 2012 the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the same way, denying another appeal that Chester was mentally disabled.

But now the judge that wrote that ruling came under fire. From Jordan Smith’s piece “Smart Enough to Die” for the Austin Chronicle:

That ruling was penned by the court’s then-Chief Judge Edith Jones about whom a serious complaint of misconduct was filed by a handful of civil rights groups, with the Fifth Circuit’s current Chief Judge Carl Stewart. The complaint alleges that Jones made a number of racist and biased comments during a lecture on the death penalty she gave at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in February. In addition to claiming that blacks and Hispanics are more violent than are whites, and that claims of racism and innocence made by death row inmates are mere “red herrings,” Jones also opined that the Supreme Court decision that outlawed execution of the intellectually disabled does the disabled a disservice and represents a “slippery slope” in death penalty jurisprudence…

…During the lecture Jones allegedly singled out Chester’s case (among a handful of others) for derision, even though his execution at that time had not yet been carried out, and his case may yet have come back to the Fifth Circuit, and to her, for review….”She said that Chester claimed to be mentally retarded and had been slow in school but he still managed to go on a burglary spree,” reads the affidavit. “In the context of talking about this case and others involving claims of mental retardation, Judge Jones commented that she believes it may do a disservice to the mentally retarded to exempt them from death sentencing.”

In light of Judge Jones’s comments, Chester’s attorney, Susan Orlansky, filed a motion to stay the execution, arguing the injection should be delayed until either a new panel reviews Chester’s case or the complaint against Jones is resolved.

“The Court should not permit Mr. Chester to be executed amid troubling questions about the actual or apparent partiality of the judge who cast the deciding vote [denying his appeal] and [who] authored the opinion in his case,” she wrote.

Yesterday the Fifth Circuit court agreed and assigned a three judge panel to review the previous appeal, but declined to stay the execution, giving the judges just 24 hours to come to a decision.

The new panel denied the motion to stay the execution, writing that they “perceive no injustice, nor any incorrectness, in the affirmance of the district court’s order denying habeas relief, and we correspondingly decline to exercise our discretion to recall mandate.” (Read the court’s full opinion here.)

According to 12 News, media witnesses were called in to view the execution at 6:21 p.m. local time. Chester was pronounced dead at 7:04 p.m. He was the 499th execution in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated.

A reporter for the Associated Press wrote that in his final words, Chester again confessed to the crimes and asked the victims’ family not to have “hate in your heart for me”:

Elroy Chester, 44, said that he didn’t want relatives of his victims to have “hate in your heart for me.”

Chester said he confessed to killing firefighter Willie Ryman III because “you should know who killed your loved one.”

“Don’t hate me. I’m sorry for taking your loved one,” Chester said. “Elroy Chester wasn’t a bad man, I don’t care what anybody says. A lot of people say I didn’t commit those murders. I really did it.”

The next execution in Texas, which will be the 500th, is scheduled for June 26, when Kimberly McCarthy is slated for lethal injection.

Related Reading:

Chief Judge: New Panel Will Be Assigned to Consider Death Row Appeal

Death Watch: Chester to Die June 12

Appeals Panel Rethinks Killer’s Case After Judge’s Comments

Smart Enough to Die

Execution Watch: Elroy Chester to Die June 12

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Florida Supreme Court to Take Another Look at Law Against Executing Mentally Disabled

From the Miami Herald

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court will be asked to take another look at how judges should determine if a death row inmate is mentally disabled.

The issue divided the high court this week in a 4-2 opinion upholding Freddie Lee Hall’s death sentence for murdering Karol Hurst, a 21-year-old, pregnant woman who was abducted leaving a Leesburg grocery store in 1978. A co-defendant is serving a life sentence.

Defense lawyer Eric Pinkard, who works for a state office that represents death row inmates, said Friday that he will ask for a rehearing and if that fails may take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“That is one of our options,” Pinkard said. “There are many cases where the issue is in play.”

The federal high court has prohibited the execution of mentally disabled inmates as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment, but it has allowed states to determine what constitutes mental disability.

The majority of Florida justices ruled Thursday in Hall’s case that they are bound by precedent set in earlier decisions prohibiting anyone with an IQ of 70 or higher from being declared mentally disabled, regardless of other evidence to the contrary.

The Florida Supreme Court in 1989 vacated Hall’s original death penalty and ordered a new sentencing hearing. A judge then resentenced Hall to death but declared he was mentally disabled. That, however, was before the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled mentally disabled inmates could not be executed and before Florida passed a law setting the IQ limit.

When Hall later filed another appeal, the same judge ruled he was not mentally disabled because his scores on three IQ test ranged from 71 to 80.

Justice Barbara Pariente sided with the majority in upholding that decision, but she wrote a concurring opinion saying there’s no clear national consensus on how to determine mental disability and noting most states do not set a limit based on IQ test scores.

“It is certainly of concern that in some states Hall would be mentally (disabled) by those states’ definitions, while in others, like Florida, the bright-line cutoff requires a contrary finding,” Pariente wrote.

She added that in the future the U.S. Supreme Court may determine such a cutoff is unconstitutional or the Legislature may change the law. Until then, though, the Florida law must be followed, she concluded.

Justices Jorge Labarga and James Perry dissented. Justice Peggy Quince did not participate in the case.

Labarga wrote that he believes the law is unconstitutional, but he also urged the Legislature to re-examine it.

Perry noted that Hall’s teachers repeatedly described him as mentally disabled and in two prior rulings the Supreme Court noted that testimony reflected Hall had an IQ of 60 and suffered from organic brain damage.

“Hall is a poster child for mental (disability) claims,” Perry wrote.

The state law also permits the execution of inmates with IQs below 70 if other evidence indicates they are not mentally disabled.

As a result, the Supreme Court has upheld death sentences of inmates with lower scores because in one case the condemned man was able to obtain a GED diploma and live independently and in another the prisoner could copy letters written by others, sign his own name and work as a cook, garbage collector and dish washer. In a third case, less credibility was given to an expert who testified that an inmate had an IQ of 69 than those who said he had scored higher.

“If the proscription against executing the mentally (disabled) is to mean anything, it cannot be wielded as this double-edged sword,” Perry wrote.


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BREAKING: Stay Lifted for John Ferguson, Execution To Tonight

This is an ongoing story, check back for updates.

UPDATE: Ferguson’s execution will proceed this evening. State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard said the execution is set for 6 p.m. at Florida State Prison.

In yet another twist in the complicated saga of John Errol Ferguson, the U.S. Court of Appeals has lifted the District Court’s stay of execution in a divided opinion. The District Court on Saturday put the execution on hold  in order to hear arguments on whether Ferguson is mentally competent to be executed. The Court of Appeals’ move now clears the way for the execution to proceed as planned this evening at 6 p.m. ET, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.

Ferguson’s attorney, Chris Handman, released this statement following the ruling:

“We are disappointed that a divided panel of the Eleventh Circuit vacated the stay of execution entered by Judge Hurley who had concluded that Mr. Ferguson’s case raises important constitutional issues that merit full consideration. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will reverse this decision because there is no evidence that Mr. Ferguson has a rational understanding of the reason for, and effect of, his execution. A man who thinks he is the immortal Prince of God and who believes he is incarcerated because of a Communist plot quite clearly has no rational understanding of the effect of his looming execution and the reason for it.”

Related Reading: 

Federal Appeals Court Paves Way for Miami Man’s Execution

11th Circuit Vacates Stay of Execution for John Ferguson

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