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Court Questions Constitutionality of Upcoming Texas Execution

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GRAPHIC: Texas
GRAPHIC: Texas
 By Peter MalofContact
July 16, 2012

HOUSTON - The scheduled Texas execution - just two weeks away, on Aug. 1 - of convicted murderer Marcus Druery is unconstitutional because he is mentally incompetent. That is according to attorneys who have asked a state district court to delay his death. While delay requests are common in capital punishment cases, concern over Druery's sanity by his former lawyers and prison officials prompted Judge J.D. Langley to appoint expert counsel to request a competency hearing.

Texas Defender Service Kate Black filed the motion. She cites the findings of a psychologist who examined Druery in May.

"His delusional ideas so pervade his understanding of his case that he no longer understands that it was him who committed the crime, and that he's the one who has to suffer the punishment."

While the state has acknowledged that Druery suffers from delusions, schizophrenia, "thought broadcasting" and auditory hallucinations, Department of Criminal Justice officials have yet to respond to the question of whether his medical condition meets the legal definition of insanity.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that executing the insane violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The high court later expanded that ruling, saying that some justifications for the death penalty - such as retribution for victims' families - are not valid when criminals cannot comprehend them.

Black says as long as Texas has a death penalty, it should be administered constitutionally.

"When you have an individual who is so psychotic that he no longer has an understanding of what it is he's being punished for, that lacks the purpose for which the death penalty was created."

She says this is not the only time Texas prosecutors have sought the death penalty against the mentally incompetent, although she thinks the Druery case is especially egregious.

"The state's own experts have diagnosed him as having paranoid and disorganized schizophrenia. He's been housed in the psychiatric unit. So, they're well aware of his irrationality, and yet have still sought an execution date in this case."

A preliminary hearing on July 24 will determine whether the court will allow a full competency investigation to proceed. Attorneys say they will file a similar motion in federal court if the state court rejects their request.

Information about the 2006 Supreme Court case that clarified the insanity definition, which was argued successfully by the Texas Defender Service, is available at http://bit.ly/PWzBRk.

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