The Cautionary Instruction: Three states, three approaches and three very different results

Friday, 27 July 2012 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino
20120727_mixedsignals_photocom9665270_150In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Panetti vs. Quarterman.   The court was asked to decide whether a condemned prisoner had a "rational understanding" of his crime and punishment for purposes of execution.

The court also addressed the retributive purpose of capital punishment, "it might be said that capital punishment is imposed because it has the potential to make the offender recognize at last the gravity of his crime and to allow the community as a whole [to] affirm its own judgment that the culpability of the prisoner is so serious that the ultimate penalty must be sought and imposed."

Cases pending before courts in Texas, Oregon and Georgia point to the absurdity of death penalty litigation. In Georgia, the court stayed the execution of a man with an IQ of 69, not because he is mentally retarded, but because a state court wants to examine a newly implemented execution protocol. In Texas, the court said a schizophrenic killer is competent and his execution should proceed. In Oregon, where the governor granted a reprieve to all condemned killers, one man is demanding to be executed.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of condemned killer Warren Hill two hours before his scheduled execution. The high court unanimously granted the stay to determine whether a recent change to Georgia’s lethal injection protocol violates state law.


Separately the court declined to hear Hill’s appeal challenging the state’s standard to determine whether Hill is mentally retarded and thus ineligible for execution.

In Texas, a county judge on Tuesday refused to order a psychiatric evaluation for Marcus Druery to determine whether the inmate is competent to be put to death. All parties agreed that Druery is schizophrenic.

Druery hears voices and believes he is being poisoned with feces-spiked food. His speech is illogical, and although he has been on death row almost six years, he insists that he is serving only a 10-month sentence.

Texas plans to proceed with Druery’s execution even though he refuses to take his medication and does not acknowledge his mental illness.

In Oregon, Governor John Kitzhaber is morally opposed to the death penalty. He granted everyone on death row a reprieve, at least while he is governor. However, not everyone agrees with Kitzhaber, including a recipient of his repreive.

Gary Haugen waived his appeal and volunteered to be executed. His attorney is arguing that in past cases the Oregon Supreme Court has adopted an 1833 U.S. Supreme Court decision authored by Chief Justice John Marshall that suggests inmates must agree to a pardon for it to take effect.

The trial court seems receptive to Haugen’s argument.

Three states, three different approaches and three very different results. The news this week points to the absurdity of a 33 state approach to capital punishment.

(Image: Maxim Kazmin/Getty Images)

Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County. He currently serves on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. He is a featured columnist for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly and a regular contributor to the Youngstown Vindicator. You can read his musings on crime and punishment at and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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