USA: Texas man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia facing execution

There is no doubt that Kelsey Patterson, who is African American, shot Louis Oates and Dorothy Harris, both of whom were white. He made no attempt to avoid arrest after shooting the victims but put down the gun, undressed and was pacing up and down the street in his socks, shouting incomprehensibly, when the police arrived.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'The fact that the USA is willing to execute people with severe mental illness, while a majority of countries have stopped using the death penalty against anyone, is a badge of shame upon a country which claims to be a progressive force for human rights.

'With a history of Kelsey and others with mental health problems being turned away from support services the state of Texas is, in effect, burying its own failure in the execution chamber.'

In the report, Another Texas injustice: The case of Kelsey Patterson, mentally ill man facing execution, the human rights organisation contrasted the fact that the execution of the insane is prohibited under the US Constitution with the federal judge's declaration that Patterson was competent to be executed.

The federal judge wrote 'All that is required for legal competency is for the prisoner to understand the fact of his impending execution and connection between his crime and the execution. That the prisoner may believe that he is not morally responsible for the killing because he was being controlled by outside forces is not part of the test.'

In 2000, a federal judge noted that 'Patterson had no motive for the killings... he claims he commits acts involuntarily and outside forces control him through implants in his brain and body. Patterson has consistently maintained he is a victim of an elaborate conspiracy, and his lawyers and his doctors are part of that conspiracy. He refuses to cooperate with either; he has refused to be examined by mental health professionals since 1984, he refuses dental treatment, and he refuses to acknowledge that his lawyers represent him.' A jury found Kelsey Patterson competent to stand trial. Yet his behaviour at his competency hearing, and at the 1993 trial itself - when he repeatedly interrupted proceedings to offer rambling narrative about his implanted devices and other aspects of the conspiracy against him - provided compelling evidence that his delusions did not allow him a rational understanding of what was going on or the ability to consult with his lawyers. In another indication of his delusional thinking, since learning of his execution date Kelsey Patterson has written various letters to judges and to the parole board, referring to the permanent stay of execution that he has received on grounds of innocence.

Kelsey Patterson is not the only Texas case where the family had tried unsuccessfully to get treatment for him prior to his crime. Others include:

  • Larry Robison, who was executed in 2000, had suffered from paranoid schizophrenia long before committing the crime for which he was sentenced to death
  • James Colburn who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was executed in March 2003
  • Scott Panetti, who recently received a 60-day stay of execution shortly before he was scheduled to be executed in Texas, and had been hospitalized for mental illness many times before the crime.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly called for an end to the use of the death penalty against people with mental disorders

Background

Kelsey Patterson insisted on defending himself during the trial as he believed his lawyers were part of a conspiracy against him, but often intervened during the court process as in this extract from jury selection:

Patterson: Mr Hamilton (juror), ask Mr Stafford (prosecutor) what murder was he part of - two for sure of 1960. Prosecutor: This is a - Patterson: In 1960 - putting poison in me. Judge: Remove the defendant from my courtroom. Patterson: Ask him which one was a party to - putting electrical devices in my body, remote controls, and do charges on me. And, by the way, this man here, he'll consult me in my sleep - in the head -

Following this intervention he was removed from the courtroom. On a further occasion when the jury was removed following an interruption the judge said: 'Now, I'm not going to keep popping you in here and popping you out. If you persist in disrupting these proceedings, I'm going to order that your mouth be taped and that you be handcuffed to your seat. Do you understand what I've said to you?'

Kelsey Patterson is African American. His two victims were white. In Texas, by 4 March 2004, 255 of the 321 executions (79 per cent) carried out in the state since 1982 had been of people convicted of killing whites.

Studies have consistently shown that race, particularly race of the murder victim, plays a role in who is sentenced to death in the USA. Blacks and whites are the victims of murder in almost equal numbers, but 81 per cent of the executions since 1977 have been of people convicted of crimes involving white victims, suggesting that the (overwhelmingly white) system places a higher value on white life.

Most murders in the USA are intra-racial, that is the victim and perpetrator are of the same race. The most common murder is black-on-black. Yet only one in 10 executions (one in 12 in Texas) were for black-on-black crimes, whereas one in five executions are of African Americans convicted of killing whites. By 4 March 2004, 70 African Americans had been executed in Texas for killing white victims.

In September 2003, Larry Hayes became the first and so far only white person to be executed in Texas for killing an African American. In addition to his black victim, he was also convicted of killing a white person, and he had refused to appeal against his death sentence.

Further information

USA: Death by discrimination - the continuing role of race in capital cases - July 2003. http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR510462003 Another Texas injustice: The case of Kelsey Patterson, mentally ill man facing execution: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR510472004 /p>

Time for humanitarian intervention: The imminent execution of Larry Robison http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR511071999 James Colburn: Mentally ill man scheduled for execution in Texas http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR511582002 /p>

'Where is the compassion?': The imminent execution of Scott Panetti, mentally ill offenderhttp://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR510112004 /p>

More information about our campaign against the death penalty... /p>

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