Courts weighing execution, mental illness

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Execution and the mentally ill continue to be topics before the courts.

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments Wednesday in Panetti v. Quarterman, No. 06-640, a Texas case that asks whether it violates a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment to execute a delusional inmate who does not understand why he is being put to death.

That case is one that Indiana Supreme Court justices are closely watching to decide how they ;ll handle a condemned man ;s mental illness claims here.

Arguments are set for 1 p.m. but could be moved to the morning because another case is being dismissed.

In Panetti, the justices are considering the legal definition of "insanity" or "mental illness" as it applies to death row inmates having a factual awareness for the reason they are being executed. However, the justices might be changing how they look at the case, issuing an order this month for additional briefs on the question: "Must petitioner ;s habeas application be dismissed as ‘second or successive ; pursuant to 28 U.S. C. §§2244?"

As the case could change how the mentally ill are executed, Indiana justices decided in January to postpone the execution of Norman Timberlake – convicted in the 1993 shooting death of a state trooper – to see how the higher court rules. A decision is expected this summer.

But there ;s no need to wait. The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments this morning in State v. McManus, 82S00-0503-PD-78, which involves death row inmate Paul McManus from Evansville. His attorney, Joanna Green, argued that he is ineligible for execution because he was mentally retarded when he killed his wife and two young daughters in 2001. Last spring, Vanderburgh Senior Judge William Brune decided that McManus should spend life in prison instead of being executed.

Now, the state is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty.

Judge Brune's decision agreed with the defense on one point: finding McManus fit the legal definition of mental retardation – and the law forbids executing the retarded. Though McManus had a below-average IQ, the prosecutor and the defendant ;s original defense attorney questioned whether McManus met the legal criteria in Indiana for mental retardation. His defense did not claim it in the original trial.

Justices grilled Green today about why at post-conviction she didn ;t raise claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel and what statues should apply to this case. A glimpse into Timberlake-thought and the larger issue surfaced at times, as when justices asked about how mental retardation is diagnosed and what it means for executions.

State attorney James Martin argued that applicable law at the time didn ;t allow another proceeding and that the trial counsel strategy was not flawed.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Great observation Smith. By my lights, speaking personally, they already have. They counted my religious perspective in a pro-life context as a symptom of mental illness and then violated all semblance of due process to banish me for life from the Indiana bar. The headline reveals the truth of the Hoosier elite's animus. Details here: Denied 2016 petition for cert (this time around): (“2016Pet”) Amicus brief 2016: (“2016Amici”) As many may recall, I was banned for five years for failing to "repent" of my religious views on life and the law when a bar examiner demanded it of me, resulting in a time out to reconsider my "clinging." The time out did not work, so now I am banned for life. Here is the five year time out order: Denied 2010 petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): (“2010Pet”) Read this quickly if you are going to read it, the elites will likely demand it be pulled down or pile comments on to bury it. (As they have buried me.)

  2. if the proabortion zealots and intolerant secularist anti-religious bigots keep on shutting down every hint of religious observance in american society, or attacking every ounce of respect that the state may have left for it, they may just break off their teeth.

  3. "drug dealers and traffickers need to be locked up". "we cannot afford just to continue to build prisons". "drug abuse is strangling many families and communities". "establishing more treatment and prevention programs will also be priorities". Seems to be what politicians have been saying for at least three decades now. If these are the most original thoughts these two have on the issues of drug trafficking and drug abuse, then we're no closer to solving the problem than we were back in the 90s when crack cocaine was the epidemic. We really need to begin demanding more original thought from those we elect to office. We also need to begin to accept that each of us is part of the solution to a problem that government cannot solve.

  4. What is with the bias exclusion of the only candidate that made sense, Rex Bell? The Democrat and Republican Party have created this problem, why on earth would anyone believe they are able to fix it without pushing government into matters it doesn't belong?

  5. This is what happens when daddy hands over a business to his moron son and thinks that everything will be ok. this bankruptcy is nothing more than Gary pulling the strings to never pay the creditors that he and his son have ripped off. they are scum and they know it.