Concerns Grow About the Mentally Ill on Death Row

There is growing concern among national mental health and legal organizations regarding inmates on death row who are severely mentally ill. Many of these inmates had been exhibiting clear signs of mental illness at the time of their crimes, and some, like Scott Panetti in Texas and Guy LeGrande in North Carolina, were allowed to represent themselves at trial, despite their bizarre behavior. Mr. Panetti, who was hospitalized 14 times for mental problems prior to his trial, represented himself in a cowboy suit and tried to subpoena Jesus Christ. The trial devolved at times into chaos and gibberish. Mr. LeGrande, who is scheduled to be executed on December 1, represented himself wearing a Superman T-shirt and called the jurors "Antichrists."

For some inmates, their mental health deteriorates further while on death row for many years. Sometimes they waive their appeals, allowing their executions to proceed more quickly. Organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the American Bar Association, have called for an exemption from the death penalty for those who were severely mentally ill at the time of their crime.
(N.Y. Times, Nov. 23, 2006). See Mental Illness. UPDATE: Guy LeGrande's execution in North Carolina was stayed pending a 60-day mental health evaluation. (Herald Sun (AP), Nov. 27, 2006).