Executing the Mentally Ill: Texas Edition Will a legally insane man become number 484?

By Kali Cohn
ACLU of Texas Intern

On Friday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay for Marcus Druery, who was being readied for execution in Huntsville this Wednesday. Mr. Druery’s faces execution for his 2002 murder of Skyyler Browne, who he shot repeatedly and whose body he subsequently burned. Skyyler’s death was a tragic loss to his family and friends, as well as an injustice to the community.

While Mr. Druery’s acts were heinous and tragic, his execution would layer another injustice on this tragedy. He suffers from schizophrenia and, because of his mental illness, he does not believe that his execution date applies to him or that he will be executed because of a crime that he has committed.

Since the 1980s, the Supreme Court has prohibited the government from executing prisoners that are insane – but it left the states to decide how to define insanity. And although a 2007 Supreme Court ruling clarified that an inmate lacking some “rational understanding” of the reason for his or her execution cannot be executed, the determination of an inmate’s “rational understanding” is at the court’s discretion to decide.

The stay follows the Brazos County District Court’s denial of a motion to hold a full hearing on Mr. Druery’s claims of competency last week – a decision which, in effect, refused Mr. Druery’s lawyers the opportunity to show that he is not competent enough to understand his execution, despite his state-diagnosed schizophrenia.

But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has made a move toward justice, and we wait to find out whether it will permit a full and fair hearing on Mr. Druery’s competence.

As we await the Court’s decision, we hope that we need not bear witness to a 484th cruel and unusual miscarriage of justice in the name of Marcus Druery.

Behind the numbers

In many ways, news about the death penalty in Texas this year has been heartening. 2011 saw the lowest level of Texas executions in the last 15 years. It matched 2010 with the lowest number of new death sentences since Texas’s death penalty was reinstated in 1974. It even reduced the number of counties sentencing inmates to the death penalty to only 6 of Texas’s 254.

In sum: support for the death penalty in Texas is waning – and those numbers reflect that.

But those numbers also mean that Texas is still putting to death 30 percent of all of the inmates executed in the United States, including individuals suffering from mental disabilities and mental illness.

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