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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCTOBER 31, 2003
 PM
CONTACT:  National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
David Elliot 202-543-9577, ext. 16
Execution Set for Three With Severe Mental Illness
 

WASHINGTON - October 31 - The next three scheduled executions in the United States - one in Georgia and two in North Carolina - involve men whose severe mental illness should make them ineligible for the death penalty, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said today.

The scheduled executions come on the heels of a report by a national organization that found that prison systems increasingly are masquerading as mental health facilities - except that many more people in prison do not receive treatment. The group, Human Rights Watch, found that one in every six people in prison in the United States is mentally ill, with many suffering from such illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. The report found that there are three times as many men and women with mental illness in prisons in the United States as there are in mental health hospitals.

Another organization, the National Mental Health Association, the nation's oldest and largest organization that conducts research on mental illness, estimates that some 370 people with severe mental illness are warehoused on death rows in the United States - just more than one in every ten people on death row.

Brian Roberts, NCADP executive director, said executing people who are not fully culpable for their actions constitutes a gross human rights violation. "Personal culpability must be taken into consideration when holding people accountable for their actions," Roberts said."People with severe mental illness, just like people with mental retardation and juvenile offenders, cannot be regarded as culpable as fully functioning adults. It is important to recognize that those chosen for execution in this country tend to reside on the very edge of society's margins - and that includes people with severe mental illness."

During the next two and a half weeks, three people with severe mental illness are scheduled for execution. They are:

***James Willie Brown, Nov. 4, Georgia. Brown is scheduled to be executed for the 1975 rape and murder of Brenda Sue Watson in Gwinnet County. Brown, who has been diagnosed no fewer than 17 times as having severe paranoid schizophrenia, originally was found incompetent to stand trial for Watson's murder. In 1981, he was found competent to stand trial and was convicted and sentenced to death. In 1988, that conviction was overturned due to Brown's mental illness. In 1991, Brown was retried and again sentenced to death, largely on the perjured testimony of a witness who said Brown was "faking" his mental illness. That witness since has recanted her sworn testimony.

***Joseph Keel, Nov. 7, North Carolina. Keel was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of John Simmons, his father-in-law in Edgecombe County. Keel suffers from borderline personality disorder, suicidal tendencies and organic personality disorder, which is caused by traumatic brain injuries and is characterized by extreme mood swings, aggression, impaired judgment, apathy or paranoia and depression. Under North Carolina law, a person cannot be convicted of capital murder if he or she does not have the mental capacity to form intent, to premeditate or to deliberate. Despite the requirements set out by North Carolina law, Joseph Keel's lawyers did not present to the jury any evidence regarding his mental illness or mental capacity to the jury during the guilt/innocence phase of the trial. Keel has been barred from pursuing ineffective assistance of counsel claims in his appeals because, ironically, a post-conviction lawyer missed the deadline for filing such appeals.

***John Dennis Daniels, Nov. 14, North Carolina. Daniels was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of Isabelle Daniels Crawford of Mecklenburg County. Psychiatrists found that Daniels possessed "the emotional and social development of an eleven or twelve-year-old child...his ability to think or evaluate his behavior would have been compromised to the point of being inconsequential."

The North Carolina scheduled executions come at a time when the state Senate has approved a moratorium on executions, with similar legislation expected to come up in the House next year. In addition, according to a recent scientific survey, support for the death penalty in North Carolina is at an all-time low, with a plurality of North Carolina residents favoring a moratorium. Nonetheless, North Carolina ranks third in the United States in executions this year, behind Texas and Oklahoma.

NCADP is urging its members and allies to contact Georgia and North Carolina officials to protest the scheduled executions. To take action, visit NCADP's Legislative Action Center at www.ncadp.org

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