State of Tennessee v. Taylor
Severely Mentally-Ill ACLU Client is Sentenced to Life Imprisonment After Successful Appeal and 18 Years on Death Row
The ACLU CPP represented Richard Taylor, a schizophrenic, psychotic and delusional death row inmate, in his direct appeal to the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals. Despite four prior judicial findings of incompetency, Taylor was permitted in 2003 to represent himself at his capital trial without even standby counsel. Taylor, forcibly medicated and sedated, wore sunglasses and prison garb throughout his two-day trial.
On March 7, 2008, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Taylor's conviction and death sentence on five separate grounds. The appellate court concluded that a number of significant errors were made during Taylor’s 2003 trial, including the denial of his constitutional right to counsel at a pre-trial competency hearing, the failure of the trial court to hold a competency hearing during the trial, and the failure of the trial court to appoint advisory counsel.
In exchange for a life sentence, Taylor pled guilty on June 3, 2008, to the 1981 murder of a prison guard — a crime committed only after prison officials stopped giving Taylor his anti-psychotic medication. The life plea is a great result for Mr. Taylor, whose serious mental illness infected every step of his case, from the crime through two trials and 27 years of litigation. His case demonstrates the fundamental unfairness of seeking the death penalty against the severely mentally ill.