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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ind. Decisions - More on: Timberlake Execution Stayed

Updating yesterday's ILB entry on the Supreme Court's order staying the Timberlake execution, Harold J. Adams of the Louisville Courier Journal writes:

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Jan. 5 that it would review its existing sanity definition through the case of Scott Panetti, who was sentenced to death by a Texas court for killing his wife's parents.

The current definition — the so-called Ford standard — says someone is sane if the person understands he or she is about to be executed and why. The justices will decide in Panetti whether that standard is adequate under the U.S. Constitution.

The court will take up the question of whether the constitution bars the execution of an inmate who knows those things but, "because of a severe mental illness, has a delusional belief as to why the state is executing him, and thus does not appreciate that his execution is intended to seek retribution for his crime."

Courts in Indiana and Texas respectively have ruled that Timberlake and Panetti, while mentally ill, are nonetheless aware that execution looms because of their crimes, and are therefore sane. * * *

The potential harm in granting Timberlake a stay "is minimal compared to the irreparable harm in denying the stay" and later learning that the U.S. high court considers his execution unconstitutional, Dickson wrote.

Dickson had been in the 3-2 majority that set the execution date after determining that Timberlake was not likely to be able to meet the Ford standard for insanity.

In yesterday's decision, he joined justices Theodore Boehm and Robert Rucker, who dissented in the December ruling. Chief Justice Randall Shepard and Justice Frank Sullivan sided against Timberlake in both rulings.

An editorial today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette concludes:
At Timberlake’s trial, no mental health testimony was presented, even though his schizophrenia has been observable since his arrest. Likewise, no evidence of his illness was presented to the jury weighing the death sentence.

“Of course, shooting a police officer is one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed,” Kathleen Bayes, executive director of NAMI Fort Wayne, wrote in a letter to the editor protesting Timberlake’s execution. “But executing a severely delusional and psychotic man who does not even understand the execution process or exactly why he is being executed is unconscionable. Indiana should not join these ranks.”

In August 2005, Gov. Mitch Daniels commuted the death sentence of Arthur Baird II to life without parole three days before he was to be executed for killing his parents. As with the Timberlake case, Baird’s lawyers argued he was mentally ill, but the state Parole Board had voted to recommend that the execution be carried out as scheduled.

Senate Bill 24, sponsored by Michigan City Democrat Anita Bowser, would establish a procedure for determining whether a defendant charged with murder is mentally ill and would prohibit a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty if the defendant is determined to be mentally ill.

Indiana law put an end to executions of the mentally retarded. It’s time to do the same in cases of mental illness.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 18, 2007 09:41 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions