Georgia and Virginia Executions Raise Concerns About Mental Disabilities

Brandon Rhode (pictured) in Georgia received a second reprieve following his suicide attempt just prior to his scheduled execution on September 21. His execution is now set for September 27 at 7 pm, despite questions about his mental competency. Rhode has been diagnosed as suffering from organic brain damage and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). According to experts, mental deficiencies associated with FASD exacerbate the impairments associated with adolescent brain immaturity. Rhode was likely functioning at a younger level than his chronological age when he committed the crime that sent him to death row. His lawyer, Brian Kammer, asked the Georgia Supreme Court to stop the execution altogether: “The stress and barbarity of his present situation, coupled with his longstanding depression and mental illness, has resulted in Brandon Rhode now experiencing dissociative episodes as his mind tries unsuccessfully to cope with his current physical condition.” Rhode was rushed to the hospital after slashing his arms and neck on the day before his originally scheduled execution. The case raises some of the concerns regarding the execution of Teresa Lewis in Virginia. Lewis was assessed as borderline intellectually disabled with an IQ of 72. Gov. McDonnell refused to grant her clemency and she was executed on Sept. 23.

(R. Cook, B. Rankin, “Triple murderer’s execution stayed until Monday,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 25, 2010; see also “USA: Cruel, inhuman, degrading,” Amnesty International, September 24, 2010). See Intellectual Disability and Mental Illness.