Inmate Who Was Nearly Executed in 2004 Declared Mentally Incompetent

Pennsylvania death row inmate George E. Banks, who came within a day of being put to death in 2004, has been declared mentally incompetent to be executed. "His longstanding delusions render him unable to rationally comprehend his death sentence, its reasons or its implications. George Banks is a very mentally sick man," stated Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan in his order. Banks was sentenced to death in 1983 for a shooting spree that ended in 13 deaths, including five of his own children. At his trial, defense attorneys argued that Banks was driven to murder by delusions of looming race wars and worried that his children might suffer racial abuse. Since his trial, Banks' mental state has deteriorated, and he has threatened to commit suicide, gone on hunger strikes, and refused medical and psychiatric treatment. As his 2004 execution date neared, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stopped the execution and ordered a competency hearing for Banks. During that hearing, two psychiatrists and a psychologist described Banks as psychotic, delusional, and irrational. Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle H. Eshbach said the decision will be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

(Knight-Ridder, February 27, 2006).  See Mental Illness.

In another recent case in South Carolina, the defendant Mar-Reece Aldean Hughes was found mentally incompetent to waive his post-conviction appeals.  Such a waiver would likely have resulted in his immediate execution.  The Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that Hughes did not understand the nature of the appeal he was waiving and was unable to rationally communicate with his attorney.  Hughes was convicted of the murder of a police officer in 1992.  (See Hughes v. South Carolina, No. 26115, Feb. 13, 2006).