Mental Illness

Mentally Ill Prisoners Who Were Executed

This is not an exhaustive list.

Cecil Clayton was executed on March 17, 2015, in Missouri.

He was 74, suffered from dementia, had an IQ of 71, was missing a significant part of his brain due to an accident. His attorneys insisted he should be spared because he did not understand the punishment to be carried out. Clayton sustained a brain injury in a sawmill accident in 1972, requiring removal of about 20% of his frontal lobe, which is involved in impulse control, problem solving, and social behavior. After the accident, Clayton began experiencing violent impulses, schizophrenia, and extreme paranoia, which became so severe that he checked himself into a mental hospital out of fear he could not control his temper. In 1983, Dr. Douglas Stevens, a psychiatrist, examined Clayton and concluded, “There is presently no way that this man could be expected to function in the world of work. Were he pushed to do so he would become a danger both to himself and to others. He has had both suicidal and homicidal impulses, so far controlled, though under pressure they would be expected to exacerbate.” In the past decade, six psychiatric evaluations have found that Clayton should be exempt from execution because he does not understand that he will be executed, or the reasons for his execution. However, since his execution date was set, he did not have a competency hearing before a judge that could spare him from execution. An image of Cecil Clayton’s brain obtained via MRI can be viewed here. The image shows the front left part of his brain is physically missing.

(T. Williams, “Lawyers Seek Reprieve for Killer Who Lost Part of His Brain Decades Earlier,” New York Times, March 7, 2015; T. Rizzo, “Missouri lawyers say man on death row is mentally incompetent because of sawmill accident,” Kansas City Star, Mar. 8, 2015).

Andrew Brannan, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, was executed in Georgia on January 13, 2015.

Brannan’s attorneys asked the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency because Brannan suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. A police video from the crime scene illustrated Brannan’s erratic behavior. Joe Loveland, one of Brannan’s attorneys, said, “There was a direct connection between his service in Vietnam and the violence that he was exposed to there and the ultimate events that occurred here. The basic question really is, should a 66-year-old Vietnam War veteran with no prior criminal record and who was 100 percent disabled under the DA standards, both with PTSD and bipolar disorder, at the time of the murder of the deputy sheriff—should that person be executed?”

(Q. Lawrence, “Lawyers Try To Fight Death Penalty With New PTSD Understanding,” NPR interview, January 6, 2015).

John Middleton was executed on July 16, 2014 in Missouri.

On July 15, a federal judge in Missouri stayed the execution of John Middleton, less than 24 hours before it was to occur. The judge was concerned that Middleton might be mentally incompetent, and hence ineligible for execution: “Middleton has provided evidence that he has been diagnosed with a variety of mental-health disorders and has received a number of psychiatric medications over the years,” Judge Catherine Perry wrote in her order staying the execution. “[Other] inmates indicate that he frequently talks to people who are not there and tells stories that could not have had any basis in reality.” Middleton’s attorneys have also introduced new evidence to support his claim of innocence. An expert witness who supported the prosecution’s case at trial has now said the murder most likely took place when Middleton was in jail in another state. Kay Parish, an attorney for Middleton, said, “Part of the reason we don’t execute people with mental deficits is that they have more difficulty navigating the system. And I think that’s very true in this case, and I think that’s why he had trouble in the past in getting lawyers or anyone to listen to his claim of innocence or look at this evidence.”

(C. McDaniel, “After Delays, Missouri Carries Out Sixth Execution This Year,” St. Louis Public Radio, July 16, 2014).

John Ferguson was executed on August 5, 2013 in Florida.

Ferguson suffered from severe mental illness for more than four decades. As far back as 1965, Ferguson was found to experience visual hallucinations. He was sent to mental institutions and was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, delusional, and aggressive. In 1975, a mental health doctor described Ferguson as “dangerous and cannot be released under any circumstances.” Nevertheless, he was released less than a year later. Ferguson believes he is the “Prince of God” and is being executed so can save the world. Ferguson’s attorneys recently filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asserting that Florida courts have applied the wrong standard for mental competency, ignoring the current interpretation of this issue by the High Court, which requires that an inmate have a rational understanding of why he is being executed. An earlier editorial in the Tampa Bay Times opposing Ferguson’s execution, agreed, “Florida is embracing an interpretation of competency for execution so pinched that it would virtually extinguish limits on executing the severely mentally ill. The state says Ferguson is aware that he is being put to death and that he committed murder, and is therefore competent to be executed.”

(“Florida Man Who Killed 8 Scheduled For Execution Today,” Associated Press, July 24, 2013; Editorial Board, “State shouldn’t execute severely mentally ill killer,” Tampa Bay Times, November 2012).

Garry Allen was executed in Oklahoma on November 6, 2012.

This was the third date set for him in 2012. Allen’s execution has been stayed repeatedly due to questions about his mental competence. He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia as well as dementia caused by seizures, drug abuse, and a gunshot wound to his head sustained during his arrest. In 2008, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended that his death sentence be commuted by a 4-1 vote. Governor Mary Fallin granted a stay in order to consider the Board’s recommendation, but denied clemency. Allen murdered his wife 26 years ago, after she had left him and taken their two children.

(R. Petersen, “Oklahoma death row inmate set for execution, again,” McAlester News-Capital, November 4, 2012).

Robert Moorman was executed in Arizona on February 29, 2012.

Moorman’s lawyers argued that he was mentally disabled and was sexually abused throughout childhood and into adulthood. Prosecutors said Moorman’s mental capacity at the time of his crime was just above the legal threshold for mental impairment.

(AP, 2/29/12)

Edwin Turner was executed in Mississippi on Feb. 8, 2012.

Turner’s attorney, Jim Craig, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court and Governor Phil Bryant for a reprieve, based in part on Turner’s mental illness. Craig said, “The Supreme Court has not decided the question of whether a prisoner with a severe mental disorder or disability which significantly impairs that person’s ability to rationally process information, to make reasonable judgments and to control their impulses, whether people in that category can be executed. So we’re asking the Supreme Court to establish that it would be contrary to consensus of moral values, that it would be cruel and unusual punishment, to execute someone with severe mental illness.” Turner had a long family history of mental illness: his great-grandmother and grandmother were committed to state hospitals. Turner’s mother attempted suicide twice, and his father was killed in an explosion that some believe was a suicide. Turner also attempted suicide several times, including one instance that left his face permanently disfigured.

(J. Eng, “Too crazy to kill? Lawyers try to stop execution of inmate they say is mentally ill,” MSNBC, February 2, 2012).

Daniel Lee Bedford was executed in Ohio on May 17, 2011.

The Supreme Court refused to block Bedford’s execution, despite his lawyers’ claims that he suffered from dementia and wasn’t competent enough to understand why he was being executed.

(AP, 5/17/11)

Frank Spisak was executed in Ohio on February 17, 2011.

Spisak was executed for the murders of three men and was characterized as a Nazi sympathizer. After his execution, his lawyers said “The media will focus on the ‘nazi’ propaganda of the prosecution…the truth is [Spisak] was seriously mentally ill and committed the crimes because of this mental illness, not because of hate.”

(Cleveland Plain-Dealer, 2/17/11)

Cal Coburn Brown was executed in Washington on September 10, 2010.

Mr. Brown had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He asked for a stay of execution on the grounds that, without his medication, he would be incompetent to be executed.

Information on his case from the Washington Attorney General

Jack Trawick was executed in Alabama on June 11, 2009.

Mr. Trawick had been treated for schizophrenia and psychotic disorders since the age of 11. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “the isolation and lack of stimulation of incarceration proved helpful in permitting him to function with less paranoia and fewer psychotic episodes.”
Statement on the case from the Equal Justice Initiative

Mark Bailey was executed in Virginia on July 22, 2004.

A clinical psychologist testified that Bailey suffered from bipolar disorder, which is characterized by impulsive acts. During his trial, he was given large doses of lithium, which had a sedative effect on him. Jury members stated that his lack of emotion at trial, likely caused by his medication, contributed to their decision to sentence him to death.

More information from the Clark County, IN prosecutor

Kelsey Patterson was executed on May 18, 2004 in Texas despite a 5-1 recommendation by the Parole Board for Clemency.

Mr. Patterson suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and believed that electronic devices had been implanted in his body and were controlling him.

Amnesty International Press Release Summarizing Patterson’s Case
In-Depth Amnesty International Article on Kelsey Patterson
Austin American-Statesman Editorial on Patterson and Mentally Ill Defendants

Charles Singleton was executed on January 6, 2004 in Arkansas.

Singleton stopped taking medication in 1997 and became psychotic, believing that his victim was still alive and that his jail cell was inhabited by demons. He was then forcibly medicated, prompting a series of appeals that culminated with an 8th Circuit Court ruling that he could be forced to take drugs that made him sane enough to be executed.

Singleton v. Norris (No. 00-1492) (8th Circuit Decision). Singleton was forcibly medicated to make him sane enough for execution.
Condemned Prisoner Treated and Executed,” by Alan A. Stone, MD; from Psychiatric Times, March 2004.

James Willie Brown was executed in Georgia on November 4, 2003.

Mr. Brown’s schizophrenia cause him to experience hallucinations and believe that voices of God and demons directed his actions. He was admitted to Central State Hospital several times, beginning in 1968. After being arrested in 1975 for the murder of Brenda Watson, Brown was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, and was treated for 5 years before being ruled competent to stand trial.

Report on the case from the International Justice Project

James Colburn was executed on March 26, 2003 in Texas.

Colburn had a long history of mental illness. He said that, at the time of the murder, “I was just in a bad state of mind. I was undergoing bad influences — voices, illusions — that were fueling my paranoia.”

Amnesty International Report

Monty Delk was executed in Texas on February 28, 2002.

Delk’s lawyer claimed that Delk had become insane while on death row, describing Delk’s behavior as “long periods of psychotic thought punctuated by grandiose delusions, incoherent ramblings, and smearing himself with his own feces, interspersed with brief moments of lucidity and compliance.”

More information from the Texas Execution Information Center

James Johnson was executed in Missouri on January 9, 2002.

Johnson, a Vietnam War veteran, suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His appeals claimed ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial lawyer failed to interview prosecution witnesses and presented inaccurate evidence, which destroyed the credibility of Johnson’s PTSD defense.

More information from the Clark County, IN prosecutor

Dion Smallwood was executed in Oklahoma on January 18, 2001.

During Smallwood’s clemency hearing, Dr. Patricia Fleming, a psychologist, testified that she had diagnosed Smallwood with bipolar disorder 5 years after the murder of Lois Frederick.

More information from the Clark County, IN prosecutor

Thomas Provenzano was executed in Florida on June 20, 2000.

Provenzano’s lawyers sought a delay of his execution in order to allow a psychiatrist to determine his competency to be executed. Provenzano suffered from delusions, including the belief that he was Jesus Christ, and that he was being executed because people hate Jesus.

CBS News story on Provenzano

Roger Berget was executed in Oklahoma on June 8, 2000.

Berget suffered a severe head injury at the age of 14, and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He attempted suicide shortly before his sentencing hearing, but his lawyer failed to present evidence of Berget’s mental illness, saying that “I simply did not understand the importance of mental health evidence to present a full picture…this entire area was left uninvestigated.”

Amnesty International Report on Berget

Larry Robison was executed on January 21, 2000 in Texas.

Robison was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and maintained that the murder for which he was convicted was the result of auditory and visual hallucinations.

Amnesty International Report

Manny Babbitt was executed on May 4, 1999 in California.

Babbitt served in the Vietnam War and suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after returning home. He said he did not remember killing 78-year-old Leah Schendel.

New York Times Magazine article on the case by Manny’s brother, Bill Babbitt