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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ind. Decisions - "Mentally ill man can be executed "

Reporting on the Supreme Court's decision yesterday in the case of Michael Dean Overstreet v. State of Indiana [see ILB entry here], Charles Wilson of the AP writes:

The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a mentally ill man convicted in the 1997 abduction, rape and slaying of a Franklin College student -- but with reservations.

Attorneys for Michael Dean Overstreet had argued that his severe mental illness at the time he was convicted of killing Kelly Eckart would make his execution cruel and unusual punishment under the state constitution.

Justice Robert Rucker, who wrote the opinion issued Tuesday, agreed.

Rucker said that the 41-year-old Overstreet's mental illness impeded his thought processes to a point comparable with mental retardation. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mentally retarded people are ineligible for the death penalty, and Rucker wrote that he believed Indiana's constitution offered even greater protection.

"Because I see no principled distinction between the diminished capacities exhibited by Overstreet and the diminished capacities that exempt the mentally retarded from execution, I would declare that executing Overstreet constitutes purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering thereby violating the Cruel and Unusual Punishment provision of the Indiana Constitution," Rucker wrote in the 46-page opinion.

"Therefore, I would remand this cause to the post-conviction court with instructions to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without parole."

However, the other four justices disagreed with Rucker and held that Overstreet was eligible for the death penalty.

All five justices agreed to uphold Johnson Superior Court's handling of Overstreet's case, dismissing other arguments including that Overstreet had had ineffective counsel.

No evidence of Overstreet's mental illness was presented during his trial, though he had been diagnosed. The defense instead tried to prove that someone else had killed Eckart.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 29, 2007 03:27 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions