Texas executed Justen Hall (pictured) on November 6, 2019 in the second Texas case of the year to present significant questions as to a prisoner’s competency to be executed.

Hall, a mentally ill death-row prisoner who had given up his appeals, had attempted suicide and had told courts on multiple occasions that he wanted to be executed. His lawyers—with whom he had refused to speak since 2017—said Hall exhibited symptoms of serious mental illness, including hallucinations, paranoia, and depression. On October 22, they filed a motion in El Paso County to request judicial review of Hall’s competency to be executed, but—relying on Hall’s self-assertion that he was competent—the trial court refused to hold a hearing on the issue.

In October 2016, Hall wrote a letter to the county court, saying, “These walls 24/7 have broken me. It is taking every last ounce of will to even make it from day to day…. I need to be put down like the rabid dog I am.” At that time, he asked the court to dismiss his appeals and set an execution date. In 2017, Hall sought to fire his attorneys, and they told the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that they would seek a competency hearing if he persisted in his request. Hall then gave up his efforts to fire the attorneys.

According to prison records from that time, Hall attempted suicide in November 2016.

Hall’s lawyers had sought DNA testing of the murder weapon from his case, but Hall attempted to waive the motions seeking that testing. In January 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied the motion for testing, saying that an exculpatory result would not have made a difference in the jury’s verdict. In the same decision, the court said that Hall’s suicide attempt and statement that death row had “broken” him did not indicate a lack of competency.

“Being depressed by his circumstances is understandable and is a rational response to adverse conditions,” the court wrote. “In light of this testimony, Appellant’s earlier statement about being ‘broken’ does not, even in combination with his suicide attempt, indicate a lack of competency.”

Hall’s lawyers argued that his medical records were replete with “numerous examples of his psychiatric condition deteriorating” over the course of the 14 years he was imprisoned on death row. Hall cut off communication with his lawyers in 2017 and later also cut off communication with his family. During a recent attempted visit by attorney Benjamin Wolff and Hall’s mother, Wolff said Hall “turned his back to me, and continued standing with his back to me (and the Visitors Area) for approximately an hour before he was escorted back to his cell.”

The case is the second in Texas in 2019 that raised questions of a condemned prisoner’s mental competency. A Henderson County court withdrew the death warrant that had scheduled Randall Mays’ execution for October 16, after his attorneys raised a claim of incompetence based upon a new diagnosis by prison doctors that Mays has schizophrenia. In withdrawing the warrant, District Judge Joe Clayton cited the need to “properly review all medical records submitted” in the case. Mays had previously received a stay of execution in 2015 on a competency claim, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later found him competent to be executed.

Of the thirteen people scheduled for execution in Texas in the last five months of 2019, four (including Mays and Hall) showed signs of serious mental illness. Hall is one of at least 149 death-row prisoners to attempt to withdraw their appeals to facilitate their own executions. These so-called “volunteers” account for ten percent of all prisoners put to death in the United States since executions resumed in the 1970s.


Davis Rich, Texas exe­cutes Justen Hall for mur­der of woman in El Paso, The Texas Tribune, November 6, 2019; Brent Bingamon, Death Watch: Is Broken” Justen Hall Competent to Be Executed?, The Austin Chronicle, November 12019

Read the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals deci­sion in Hall v. State, January 302019