Highlighting Issues With Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

A judge in North Carolina ruled that Guy LeGrande was not competent to be executed. LeGrande has suffered with mental illness for years. His illness was in full view of the jury when he represented himself in his capital trial. During the trial, LeGrande wore a Superman t-shirt and insulted the jury. LeGrande had an execution date scheduled in 2006 but a judge stayed the execution so that he could be examined by psychiatrists.

The judge's order outlines several of LeGrande's delusions such as his belief that he will receive a pardon and billions of dollars from the state. Although he has been ruled mentally incompetent to be executed, LeGrande is still under a death sentence.

LeGrande's case highlights the injustice involved in subjecting defendants who are mentally ill to capital trials. Some mentally ill defendants choose to defend themselves because they mistrust the lawyers assigned to represent them. In LeGrande's case this led to him making statements to the jury that ensured a death sentence. Mentally ill defendants have also refused to work with psychiatrists because they either do not believe they are ill or they do not trust the people hired to assist them.

The Supreme Court of the United States has not banned the execution of the mentally ill. In Panetti v. Quarterman, the Court held that a mentally ill person cannot be executed if he does not understand the reason for his execution. In the absence of a Supreme Court ruling, states have considered bills to exempt the mentally ill from death sentences. Such bills were brought up in Indiana and Washington but have not yet become law. LeGrande's case makes it clear that it is an unjust exercise to subject people suffering with mental illness to the death penalty.

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Mike G in NH

If a person of questionable mental facilities is properly convicted of a capital crime, he should be put to death like any other.

Their mental facilities are irrelevant after their execution. Their ability to understand the reason for the execution is irrevelant when they're dead.

We're not trying to rehab capital offenders. We're trying to remove them from society permanently. Wether or not they understand what's going on is entirely beside the point.

Now, one might make an argument on an individual case about a defendant unnecessarily contributing to their own conviction due to not understanding the process. Reasonable people can disagree how such an event might be processed.

Overall, however, executing a capital criminal is like putting down a rabid dog.

We're not angry at the dog for being rabid. How the dog became rabid doesn't matter. We don't care if the dog doesn't understand it's going to die because it got in a tussel with that racoon.

A rabid dog is simply too dangerous to have a place anywhere in our society- not even in the dog pound, let alone on our streets.

It- and the convicted capital criminal- are quite simply removed entirely from society.

Pete B in Ca

Well said Mike G. Capital punishment is reserved for the most heinous of crimes. A persons mental capacity or state is irrelevent. If they are capable of committing the innitial offense, then they are capable of repeating and are therefore a threat to society.

For those of you that argue that capital punishment is inhumaine, here is a question for you. What have they done to receive such a sentence? How did they treat their victim/victims? Certainly there was no compassion involved.

Society must be protected from people that purpotrait such calous and sadistic crimes. Simply locking them up is not enough. They must be prevented from re-offending.

It is truely sad that the scope of the law does not extend to cover rapists and pedophiles as well.

Carey W

I would like to chime in in saying that
this country has gotten so soft on crime
that the word "deterent" doesn't carry the same weight for crimes as it did. I know, I know, there are a lot of you out there that think that the thought of punishment does not deter crime, maybe in cases of "heat of passion" I could agree but even then, your own sense of morality and respect for life
should have a "deterent" effect on your actions unless you are mentally ill.
If you are mentally imbalanced that you would disregard the laws and respect of life that most of all of us cherish then you are not a respected functioning part of our society. As with any pest you should be eliminated according to the laws of this government and country regardless of how
inhumane it may appear to the public.

Steve R

I am from the UK, a country which suspended and then abolished the Death Penalty in 1970, One of the prime movers in this process were a small number of cases where innocent people were hanged.

One such case was Derek Bentley who, whilst detained by the police said "Let him have it Chris" - a statement that could have been read one of two ways. Despite Bentley having a mental age of 11 (he was 19 at the time of the crime), as his accomplice who shot dead a police officer was considered a minor, he was convicted and hanged.

Subsequently the conviction was found to be unsafe and he was posthumously pardoned. It has been widely speculated that because the killing was of a police officer, the government of the time decided that someone (and it did not matter whom) would face the noose.
Since Bentley was seen as expendable he was unlucky enough to be the one.

What I am getting at is those proponents of the death penalty should bear this in mind as during the late 50s there was a complete swing of public opinion from most of the public being Pro to most being Anti and the government had no choice other than to bend to public pressure. By being seen to be executing the "wrong" types of convicted people one could be bringing about a change of political temperature leading to an end to CP.

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