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Ohio, USA: 'Mentally ill' 66-year-old man facing execution in days

Expert says Reginald Brooks suffers from paranoid schizophrenia

A 66-year-old man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia faces execution in the US state of Ohio next week (Tuesday 15 November) despite a judge recently saying that he is “mentally ill” and was so at the time of three murders for which he was convicted nearly 28 years ago.

Reginald Brooks, 66, was found guilty on 30 November 1983 of murdering his three sons on 6 March 1982. The three boys - Reginald Jr (aged 17), Vaughn (15), and Niarchos (11) - were shot in the family home in East Cleveland in Ohio. Brooks was found competent to stand trial, waived his right to a jury trial and was tried in front of a three-judge panel.

However, last month a judge conducted hearings on whether Brooks is competent to be executed (whether he has a rational understanding of his punishment) and found that he “continues to be mentally ill, as he was at the time he committed these killings”, that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and that he currently presents with “persecutory delusions that he has been framed for a crime that occurred while he was leaving town”. Notwithstanding these findings, the judge ruled that Brooks is competent to be executed.

Meanwhile, his appeal lawyers have also obtained documents, apparently from the trial prosecutor’s file, pointing to evidence that in the period leading up to the killings Brooks had displayed bizarre, aberrant and paranoid behaviour indicative of deteriorating mental health.  Brooks’ trial lawyer has said that none of the documents was disclosed to the defence, and that this “secretion of the witness statements totally prevented me from properly and competently representing Mr Brooks”.

The current lawyers are seeking a stay of execution, arguing that the information was unlawfully withheld from the defence and that it would have been relevant to a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and as mitigating evidence against the death penalty. Yesterday Ohio’s governor John R Kasich denied clemency to Brooks. Amnesty is calling on him to reconsider this decision.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“It frankly beggars belief that the state of Ohio is set to execute Reginald Brooks despite him being judged ‘mentally ill’.

“Amnesty is against the death penalty in all circumstances, but even people who agree with capital punishment should be horrified at the thought of mentally ill people being sentenced to death and executed.

“Governor Kasich should reconsider his decision to deny clemency to Mr Brooks, and recognise that there is a very strong case against his execution.”

At a clemency hearing for Reginald Brooks last month a psychiatrist said that he had diagnosed Brooks as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. In a signed statement, Dr Rahn Bailey stated that:

"As a forensic psychiatrist I can say with reasonable psychological and psychiatric certainty that the evidence contained in the prosecutor's files would have supported a not guilty by reason of insanity defence at trial. This is based upon a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, Paranoid type and supported by the anecdotal evidence made clear to outsiders around the time of the homicides. This evidence supports Mr Brooks as having been actively psychotic at the time he killed his Children's rights."

Another witness at the clemency hearing was one of the three judges from the 1983 trial. Judge Harry Hanna said that he would not have voted for the death penalty if he had been presented with the information about Brooks’ behaviour prior to the shootings. He has also said in a sworn statement: “The new information from the prosecutor’s file paints a different picture than what was presented to me and the other two judges. My review of the police reports and statements indicates quite convincingly that Brooks was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia which related directly to the murder of his three Children's rights.”

However, the Ohio Parole Board has recommended that Ohio's Governor, John Kasich, deny clemency to Reginald Brooks, who it acknowledges “suffers from mental illness”. The governor does not have to accept their recommendation.

Note to editors:
* So far this year the USA has executed 39 people, four of whom were prisoners in Ohio.

*Last year the USA executed 46 death row inmates, a lower figure than in recent years, but still the fifth highest number of any country in the world.

*Over 3,200 prisoners are currently on death row in the USA.

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