MENTAL ILLNESS: Ohio Execution Halted After Inmate Found Mentally Incompetent

On June 18, the Ohio Supreme Court stayed the execution of Abdul Awkal (pictured) indefinitely following a county court’s ruling that he was mentally incompetent to face execution. Awkal was originally scheduled for execution on June 6, but shortly before the execution Governor John Kasich granted a two-week reprieve to allow time for a mental competency hearing. Judge Stuart Friedman presided over that hearing and subsequently ruled that Awkal was too mentally ill to be put to death, citing Awkal’s belief that the CIA was orchestrating his execution and that he played a crucial role in the country’s war on terrorism. The judge wrote: “Based upon an exhaustive review of all the evidence … Abdul Awkal presently lacks the capacity to form a rational understanding as to the reason the state intends to execute him.” Awkal was sentenced to death in 1992 for the murder of his wife and brother-in-law. Originally, he was found incompetent to stand trial. If a court later finds his competency has been restored, he could still face execution.

David Singleton, attorney for Awkal, said, “In a fair and thorough fact-finding hearing that took place over the course of several days, Mr. Awkal has been found mentally incompetent. Therefore our Constitution prohibits his execution. Given Mr. Awkal’s mental incompetence, we are confident that the court’s ruling will be the final word in this matter.” The U.S. Supreme Court held in Ford v. Wainwright (1986) that executing the insane is unconstitutional, because insane individuals are so out of touch with reality that they do not know right from wrong and cannot understand their punishment or the purpose of it. In Panetti v. Quarterman (2007), the Court said that an evaluation of mental competency should consider whether a defendant’s mental illness intereferes with his rational understanding of the reason for his execution.

The Ohio Parole Board had voted 8-1 against recommending clemency for Awkal.

(A. Welsh-Huggins, “Ohio Supreme Court delays execution of condemned killer deemed incompetent by judge,” Associated Press, June 18, 2012). Read the County Court’s Order. See Mental Illness. Listent to DPIC’s podcast on Mental Illness.