Mental Illness

Sentence Reductions Involving Mental Illness

Court Actions

Abdul Awkal, Ohio, 2012

On June 18, the Ohio Supreme Court stayed Awkal’s execution 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. (Associated Press, June 18, 2012).

Robert James Acremant, Oregon, 2011

Under a deal between Acremant’s defense attorneys and the Jackson County District Attorney, Acremant’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole unless new evidence shows that he feigned mental illness to avoid the death penalty. Acremant also faces a death sentence in California, which has not been commuted. (Mail Tribune, February 18, 2011).

Isaac Jackson Stroud, North Carolina, 2011

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson found that Stroud’s incurable mental disorder made him mentally incompetent to assist counsel, and changed his sentence to life in prison without parole. (WRAL, February 18, 2011).

Guy LeGrande, North Carolina, 2008

LeGrande was scheduled to be executed in North Carolina on Dec. 1, 2006 and was issued a stay. A Stanly County Superior Court judge declared him mentally incompetent to be executed on July 1, 2008.


John Eley, Ohio, 2012

Governor John R. Kasich commuted the death sentence of John Jeffrey Eley to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Kasich stated that Eley, who is of limited mental capacity, acted under the direction of another man who was later acquitted. Without those factors it is doubtful that Eley would have committed this crime. Additionally, the former Mahoning County prosecutor who tried Eley’s case regretted the way the case was handled and its outcome, and had called for clemency. (Washington Post, July 10, 2012).

Percy Walton, Virginia, 2008

Gov. Timothy Kaine commuted Percy Walton’s death sentence to life in prison without parole, citing his serious mental illness that rendered him incompetent to be executed. The governor said that Walton was not cognizant of his impending execution and the reason for it. Gov. Kaine had twice previously stayed Walton’s execution in order to evaluate his mental condition and competency. The governor said that he also considered other factors such as his age at the time of the crime and evidence of “mental retardation.” (Washington Post, June 10, 2008; Governor Kaine’s statement of clemency, June 9, 2008).

Arthur P. Baird II, Indiana, 2005

Governor Mitch Daniels commuted the death sentence of Baird, who is severely mentally ill, to life without parole because that sentence was not available at the time of Baird’s sentencing, and many of the jurors in the trial and the family of the victims believed that Baird deserved life without parole due to his mental illness. (Indianapolis Star, August 29, 2005.)

Alexander Williams, Georgia, 2002

Granted by Gov. Roy Barnes. The Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to commute Williams’s sentence to life without parole because he suffered from mental illness and was a juvenile at the time of the crime.

Calvin Swann, Virginia, 1999

Gov. James Gilmore noted that prison officials said Swann’s behavior on death row had been “nothing short of bizarre and totally devoid of rationality.” The prosecuting attorney said that he would not have sought the death penalty if life without parole had been available at the time. Gilmore noted that the jury had been misinformed about the degree of Swann’s mental illness. (Wash. Post, May 3, 1999).