ACLU Urges Tennessee Appeals Court to Reverse Death Sentence of Mentally Ill Man

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
July 17, 2007 12:00 am

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NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union and the Office of the Tennessee Post-Conviction Defender today urged the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse the conviction and death sentence of Richard Taylor, who is severely mentally ill.

“Richard Taylor’s trial was fraught with error and injustice,” said Cassandra Stubbs, the attorney with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project who is representing Taylor on the appeal. “Our client was not competent to stand trial and was denied several fundamental rights. We hope the Court of Criminal Appeals will do the just and humane thing and right this grave wrong.”

In 2003, Taylor, who was schizophrenic, delusional and heavily sedated by forced medication, faced his two-day capital trial alone – representing himself without even standby counsel to help him. Wearing prison garb and sunglasses, Taylor called no witnesses, introduced no evidence, and presented no defense. The few cross-examination questions he posed during the guilt-innocence phase of his trial were delusional, and he was completely silent during the sentencing phase of the proceedings. The jury that sentenced Taylor to death was never presented with compelling evidence of Taylor’s difficult childhood, suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations or severe mental illness.

Taylor’s appeal raises numerous legal challenges to the trial and proceedings leading up to it, including the judge’s failure to hold a competency hearing during the trial when it was obvious that Taylor was incapable of standing trial and representing himself, said the ACLU. In addition, the appeal challenges the trial judge’s failure to question Taylor adequately about whether he wanted to waive his right to have the jury consider mitigating circumstances in his life, the judge’s failure to appoint standby counsel, and the judge’s ruling that Taylor could be forcibly medicated at trial.

Richard Taylor is represented on appeal by the ACLU’s Stubbs and Kelly Gleason of the Office of the Tennessee Post-Conviction Defender.

The ACLU’s appellate brief and more information about the case can be found online at:

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