Jack Greene Has Profound Mental Illness, but Arkansas Wants to Execute Him Anyway

Update: On Nov. 7, 2017, the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the execution of death row prisoner Jack Green.

The state of Arkansas is planning to kill Jack Greene. But Jack Greene has serious mental illness and should not be executed.

This doesn’t mean that Greene is not guilty of the capital murder of Sidney Burnett in 1991. Stopping his execution has nothing to do with his guilt — or even the fact that he should face a severe punishment for the rest of his life. But, under our law, Greene’s profound mental illness must determine whether he can be executed.

For more than three decades, we have recognized as a matter of constitutional law that executing someone who does not rationally understand the basis for their execution is cruel and unusual.

In his delusional mind, Greene needs to stand upside down, stuff pieces of toilet paper in his nose and ears until they bleed, eat from his sink, and perch on his toilet to protect himself from an imagined attack on his central nervous system. He believes the prison and his lawyers are working together against him in an elaborate scheme of retaliation and torture. He believes that his execution is part of a vast conspiracy by his lawyers and others against him. He does not rationally understand his punishment.

Nonetheless, Greene faces a November 9, 2017, execution because Arkansas has no constitutional avenue for him to prove the extent of his mental illness. The person who decides whether prisoners are competent to be executed is the director of the Department of Correction — the very person whose job it is to conduct executions. There is no other way for Greene to demonstrate or explain to an independent court why he should not be executed, even though he has struggled with mental illness for decades.

His first reported imagined attack on his body came in 1982. Greene, 27 years old at the time, went to the emergency room in distress. He told the doctors that he had been bitten by a snake.

But here’s the thing. Doctors did not believe there was a snake. It was all in his head.

Furthermore, Greene harmed himself based on his imaginary injury. He had split open his own leg, sucked out the imaginary venom, and made a tourniquet.

This is the nature of delusions. Greene’s delusions may seem bizarre. But to him, they are absolutely real.

We know serious mental illness may be the result of family history and genetics, or it may be the result of other life experiences and even head injuries. Which did Greene have? All of them. Seizures, major depression, and suicide all run deep through Greene’s immediate family. His siblings have been diagnosed with serious mental illness for years. Greene’s father committed suicide in front of him, and his mother died of an overdose.

If his biology stacked the cards against him, his life experiences made sure he had a losing hand.

As a boy, Greene was sent to the Stonewall Jackson Juvenile Training School — a notorious hellhole of physical and sexual abuse. He could not escape the sexual and physical violence there, and he tried to run from the school. This ended in a car accident where he broke his ribs, punctured his lung, and injured his head. He was then returned to the violent and chaotic school.

When Jack finally came home, he was a changed child, marked by telltale signs of trauma. He was withdrawn, quiet, crying, nervous, rocking, and haunted by nightmares. Such trauma, like a head injury from a car accident, changes the grooves of your brain.

So why is Greene still facing an imminent execution date? Because Arkansas has no constitutionally adequate way for him to prove that he meets the standard for someone too mentally ill to be executed.

In most states, lawyers for seriously mentally ill death row prisoners prove that their clients are incapable of rationally understanding the purpose of their execution, and thus ineligible for execution, by presenting their case to courts. Not so in Arkansas, where death row prisoners — and their lawyers — are expected to argue to the head of the Department of Corrections that they qualify for the exemption. This is an anathema to our system of justice: We do not allow jailers to determine our punishments or decide who lives and who dies in America.

At a minimum, Arkansas must hold a fair competency hearing to determine if Mr. Greene is too mentally ill to be executed. To proceed with the execution of Jack Greene, a person who cannot rationally understand the basis for his punishment, would be morally and legally wrong.

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Anonymous

While I believe that the death penalty should be abolished and I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments you are conveying, I cannot help but point out the fact that you have listed seizures as a symptom of mental illness. Please do your research before publishing such misinformation. Epilepsy and seizure disorders are neurological conditions, not psychiatric.

Anonymous

They specifically explained he was in a bad car accident, which caused a head injury. Seizures most definitely are symptoms of certain traumatic brain injuries. They literally state "head injury." Seizures are know to cause psychiatric disorders, which is why they bring up the head injury and seizures.

Anonymous

My young son had seizures due to a brain tumor. His mental health declined and he would go into rages. They even called it "hypothalamic rage". On top of that, the medicine used to control seizures has the known side effect of behavior problems. All this at a vulnerable time to grow and form your brain when he was months old until the age of five. Up to 25 seizures a day. So yes, seizures can impact ones mental health greatly. P.S. My 8 year old is thriving now and is 3 years seizure free! We got lucky.

M.J.

Severe mental illness, i.e. that which causes psychosis, is neurological, not psychological. Psychosis is a neurological disconnection with realityreality at its worst stage of exacerbation. This is what the criminal justice system and society broadly do not understand. Due justice project.

Anonymous

it could be psychological if u are schizophrenic......

Anonymous

"Advocates" should probably refrain from appealing for clemency from execution of people with SMI unless they have acquired comprehension of the nature of these brain disorders. Why should someone who is in an abnormal state of consciousness (psychosis) be held criminally responsible. This is why the ACLU, the ABA, the #ASMIES, etc. are failing to ban capital punishment for this class of people. You are all complicit with a legal system that has defined "insanity" into obsolescence via McNaghten's Rule part 1.

Anonymous

Mental Illness, Is a brain disease that manifests as strange behavior, and obviously, in this case, the man is seriously disturbed and is not fully culpable for what he did in 1991--IF his mental condition was similar to the described text the ACLU gave. Should not be killed like an animal.

Anonymous

"Disturbed". There goes one of those words that is so often used in media reports to describe people who have SMI or were in the throes of psychosis when they committed violent crimes. Use of the terms "Emotionally or mentally disturbed" is a tell tale sign of someone who has not got a clue as to what pscyhosis is and how it impairs waking consciousness and cognition.

Just for a sort of thought experiment: Consider this symptom complex that can transiently present in episodic phases of certain seizure disorders: Hallucinosis, distortions of the sense of familiarity and reality, forced thoughts, intrusive memories, illusions of enhanced brilliance and clarity, mental clouding, disturbances of memory, dreamlike alterations in consciousness, sensory disturbances.

Would you (speaking rhetorically, because this reply is not an attack on you) call someone with temporal lobe epilepsy mentally disturbed? No. Yet the same psychosis symptom complex afflicts people with Schizophrenia or Bipolar psychosis, or post-partum psychosis chronically or for prolonged periods...exacerbating into neurological (to be distinguished from psychological) disconnection with reality if pharmaceutical treatment is absent or ineffective. - One day, neuroscience is going to force the medical field to have to crash the somewhat rigid working categorizations of certain brain disorders such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Seizure Disorders, Autism, etc. Diagnostics and diagnoses are going to look very different. This overlap of symptom complexes will change how we look at "mental illness". We are holding people criminally responsible for behaviors that are produced by acutely disordered states of consciousness. Should someone be convicted and punished for a violent act produced by a parasomnia? How is that ok?

Longstanding misconceptions about what Schizophrenia is, Freudianism, Folk psychology and M'Nagten's Rule have gotten the minds of the populace so fouled up that even advocates for the ban on capital punishment for people with SMI are not equipped with the understanding they need to fight the battle. M'Naghten's Rule resulted from a showdown, so to speak, between Queen Victoria and actual medical doctors...go figure. You are all trying to convince legislators and governers that the death penalty should not be applied to someone you concurrently believe to be at least criminally responsible. Your activism has not been working folks!

Anonymous

From the actual crime reporting:

According to court documents, he tied up and gagged the 69-year-old clergyman, bashed his head with the can of hominy, cut him from mouth to ear, and fired a .25 caliber pistol into his chest and head. One judge referred to it as "horrible torture."

The state argues that Greene was found competent before his trial and sentencing, but the defense says he hasn't had a proper hearing on his current mental state.

This makes it sound like when he committed the murder he was found competent, but his mental state changed after he had been in prison. Not sure if that's true or not, and not sure that will matter to anyone, but it sounds like this man committed a horrible, torturous crime, was found competent, got put in jail, and afterward his condition devolved.

Anonymous

His is only as insane as his attorney say he is. He was found competent at the time of his trial. He should have been delt his sentence years ago. He is a evil, cruel man and the families of his victims, not one but multiple have suffered more than enough. I knew the Pastor. He was kind and tried to help Green. What did Green do for a thank you. Beat him with a can of food, and then slit him from ear to ear. And if that was not enough he then stabbed him over and over in the chest. All this was done over a long period of time. Green was convicted by a jury of his peers. Now it is time to follow through with what was passed down as punishment. People have forgotten there is evil in the world and Jack Green is one of them.

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