EDITORIALS: Death Penalty's 'Failure to Account for Severe Mental Illness'

A recent editorial in the New York Times called for greater attention to be paid by courts to inmates on death row with severe mental illness: “The death penalty system fails to take adequate account of severe mental illness, whether at trial, at sentencing or in postconviction proceedings,” the paper wrote. The editorial praised Governor John Kasich of Ohio for granting a two-week reprieve to Abdul Awkal on June 5 just prior to his scheduled execution. However, the Times said the the Ohio courts should have assumed the responsibility to review Awkal’s mental competency before his execution. An Ohio trial judge recently found there was enough evidence to justify a review of Awkal’s sanity, but said he could not hold a hearing immediately because witnesses were not available and he did not have the power to stay the execution. The Times concluded, “This is yet another reason the penalty should be abolished and further evidence of the grave injustices committed in this system.”

The editorial pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has expressed concerns about executing an inmate who “may understand that he is on death row because of a heinous crime but may, nonetheless, be delusional in believing that he is to be executed for a nonsensical or unrelated reason.” Awkal believes he is on death row because he angered the CIA.

(“A Stay of Execution,” New York Times, editorial, June 7, 2012). See Mental Illness and U.S. Supreme Court. Read more Editorials. Listen to DPIC’s podcast on Mental Illness.