[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TENN., N.J., ILL., N.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 12 16:27:14 CST 2007
Insanity On Death Row
When it comes to prisoners on death row who are insane, the law is very
clear: you cannot execute them. The Supreme Court has ruled it
unconstitutional and deemed it "cruel and unusual punishment."
But can medication make a prisoner sane enough to be executed? That
question is being asked in the case of convicted killer Greg Thompson.
As correspondent Lara Logan reports, Thompson was originally found
competent to stand trial, but prison doctors have concluded he is mentally
ill and they give him medication every day.
Thompson's lawyers argue that he is still insane on the medication, which
he was taking the day 60 Minutes met with him.
Thompson told Logan he had to stab his food to eat it. "Especially eggs.
They be popping up," he said. "Hit me in the face. You got to stab it. And
then you gotta eat it quick. Real quick."
60 Minutes met Thompson inside a maximum security prison in Nashville.
He has been diagnosed as schizophrenic and psychotic by both prison
doctors and those hired by his lawyers. And he has been medicated by the
state for most of his 22 years on death row. Thompson receives a daily
cocktail of anti-psychotic mood-stabilizing pills, and injections twice a
Asked if he knows why he's getting medication, Thompson told Logan, "Yeah,
He says he only takes 10 pills a day now.
"What happens if you dont take them?" Logan asked.
"I go lulu," Thompson replied.
"Tell me what going lulu is for you," Logan asked.
"In a few days I would like lose my mind and it would be trying to explode
on me," he replied. "I got in a fight with the guards a lot of times, you
know. Tried to kill a few."
"Did you kill any of them?" Logan asked.
"No," Thompson said. "But at the time they was turning into insects. And I
wanted to kill them."
"The guards were turning into insects?" Logan asked.
"Yeah, they were giant insects," Thompson said. "They was acting just like
the guards, but they were aliens. And I had to kill the aliens. They were
attacking the world."
A psychologist who has been evaluating Thompson for nine years says he
sees, hears and smells things that arent there, and suffers from extreme
paranoid delusions and hallucinations.
But when Thompson was put on trial for murder 22 years ago, his lawyers
did not raise insanity as a defense. He confessed, was convicted and
sentenced to death for killing Brenda Lane. She was 28 years old,
well-liked in her community and she had been married just a few months.
The facts of what happened on New Year's Day in 1985 have never been in
dispute. Thompson and his girlfriend, a juvenile, wanted to get from
Tennessee to Georgia, so they kidnapped Brenda Lane, stole her car and
then drove around for an hour and a half on remote country roads, as
Thompson searched for a place to kill her.
They stopped along a rural country road near a field. Thompson then
stabbed Brenda four times in the back and drove off, leaving her to die
alone in the cold and the dark.
"I thought I had to kill to survive," Thompson told Logan.
Thompson told 60 Minutes he heard voices in his head that night.
"You thought people were after you," Logan remarked.
"Yes," he replied.
And then in chilling detail, he described exactly how he killed Brenda
"She got into the front seat driver's seat. And I had the knife on her.
And I sat in the back seat. And," Thompson said.
"You jumped in the car and pulled a knife on her?" Logan asked.
"Yeah. Uh-huh," Thompson acknowledged. "Knife was already out. It was a
"She must have been scared," Logan remarked.
"Yeah, she was crying," Thompson said.
"She was terrified for her life," Logan said.
"I know. I know," Thompson replied.
Asked what he felt, Thompson said, "She knows shes going to die."
Why did he kill her?
"There was no reasoning at that point," Thompson said. "It was just get
"Tell me how it happened. Describe it for me," Logan asked.
"Just turned her around and she didn't move and I stabbed her four times,"
Thompson recalled. "I wanted her to die quickly."
Asked why he wanted her to die quickly, Thompson told Logan, "Not in pain.
I didn't want her to be suffering in pain."
"You think if somebody stabbed you four times in the back you're not gonna
suffer?" Logan asked.
"Not really, no," Thompson said.
"You know she was still alive when you drove away," Logan pointed out.
"I heard her scream," Thompson said.
Thompson managed to escape to Georgia but was arrested there after setting
Brenda Lane's car on fire. Frankie Floied, an investigator in the case
back in Tennessee, says it could have taken months to find the body if
Thompson -- over the telephone - hadn't given such precise, intricate,
directions to the place he killed her.
"What was going through your mind at the time when you were talking to him
on the phone?" Logan asked Floied.
"How calm he was," the investigator remembered. "There was no remorse.
There was no passion. It was just matter of fact. 'If you'll take, you
take this road, this road, this road and this road.'"
"So exact," Logan remarked.
"Its like you telling me how to find a Frisbee that you've tossed and
lost," Floied said.
"So what did that mean to you?" Logan asked.
"Cold, impassioned. Just a cruel person," Floied replied.
That was the picture prosecutors painted of Thompson at his trial. But it
wasn't a complete picture, according to Thompsons current lawyers, Dana
Chavis and Steve Kissinger, who are appealing his case. They say Thompson
had severe mental problems dating back to his childhood and they are
fighting to keep him alive.
"If he knew what he was doing at the time, and he was competent to be
executed at the time that sentence was given, why shouldn't he die for
what he did?" Logan asked.
"I think the evidence points overwhelmingly to the fact that he was insane
at the time," Kissinger said.
"But it was never proved," Logan said.
"Of the offense," Kissinger said.
"And it wasnt raised at the trial," Logan said.
"Right," Kissinger said.
"He told them exactly what hed done. He even told them where hed thrown
out the murder weapon, so they could find that on the side of the road,"
"I think the fact that Greg Thompson can remember things does not detract
from the fact that at the time of the crime he was suffering delusions and
he was hearing voices," Chavis said.
"Never brought up at the trial," Logan pointed out.
"Thats correct, never brought up at the trial because the trial attorneys
did not consult with the proper people that would have seen those clear
signs of Gregs psychosis at the time, the clear signs of psychosis that
everybody agrees about right now," Chavis said.
Three years ago, a federal appeals court ruled that a lower court should
examine evidence that Thompson was mentally ill at the time of the crime.
One judge called it "powerful mitigating evidence." But then the Supreme
Court narrowly overruled the decision, saying it was too late to raise
that issue. Barbara Brown, Brenda Lanes only sister, who sat through every
day of Thompsons trial, is frustrated by the lengthy legal process.
"I don't believe that he was insane at the time he killed her. Uh, now I
don't know. He's been sitting on death row 22 years. Almost anyone might
be insane after this period of time," Barbara said. "It's just not right
that he was given a death sentence and it not carried out."
Brenda Lane is buried on a hillside about a mile from her sister Barbaras
house. Every Sunday, Barbara goes back to the same church where she and
her sister played piano, sang and prayed together. Barbara thinks the
legal system is protecting Thompson and has forgotten her sister.
"It destroyed my family basically. My mother certainly never got over it,"
she said. "And my dad absolutely wanted to see him executed."
Both parents and Brenda's husband have all died since she was killed.
"Even my husband has now passed away," Barbara said.
"I think our hearts go out to the sister," Chavis said. "And of course,
what happened is a terrible tragedy. But the point now is that Greg
Thompson is psychotic, that he's delusional, that he does not have a
rational understanding of why the state seeks to execute him."
In what could be a last-chance appeal, Thompson's lawyers only have to
prove he is insane now and doesn't understand what's happening to him,
even when he is on medication, as he was during the 60 Minutes interview.
He appeared most of the time to be delusional.
"Well, see I wrote some songs and sent them to Hollywood," Thompson told
Asked who he'd written them for, he said, "Garth Brooks, Reba McIntyre."
Thompson told Logan he likes country music, and that the first song he
wrote was "Dirty Dishes in the Sink."
He also said he had gotten paid twice, and that the last check that was
sent to him was for $444,000.
"$444,000? What did you do with that money?" Logan asked.
"I sent it to Brenda Lane's family," Thompson said.
"You sure about that?" Logan asked.
"Yeah," Thompson said.
"What if I said to you there was no check?" Logan asked.
"Its in my name," Thompson insisted.
"What if I said to you, though, there was no check, its in your head, not
in your name?" Logan asked.
"No, there was a check. It wasnt in my head, you know," he claimed.
"Are you a con man? Are you acting for me?" Logan asked.
"No. Im serious. This is me. This is who I am," Thompson replied.
"How can you be sure that Greg Thompson is not just acting up, that hes
not just pretending?" Logan asked attorney Dana Chavis.
"For over 20 years, prison doctors have administered very powerful
anti-psychotic drugs to Greg Thompson. I dont know of any doctor that
would prescribe or force that type of medication upon a person unless they
believed they were truly psychotic," Chavis replied.
Asked what the effect of that medication is, Chavis said, "It doesn't take
away his mental illness. He's always insane. But what it does is that it
hides that insanity."
"But it doesn't actually make him normal?" Logan asked.
"Not at all," Chavis replied.
But does Thompson understand that taking the medication may make him
appear sane enough to be executed?
"Well, I had a -- I made a choice years ago. That if I were to get to that
point I'd rather be normal than insane," Thompson told Logan.
"Why is that?" she asked.
"Because it hurts. Im tired of being mentally ill, you know. So if they
want to kill me at the end, then they kill me at the end," he replied.
"I think I have to forgive him," Brenda Lane's sister Barbara Brown said.
"I am a Christian and we are to forgive people. It's hard."
"But you want him to die for what he did," Logan remarked.
"Yes, I do want to see him executed," Barbara said.
Thompson's lawyers are going back to federal court this month and hope
eventually to get a ruling that Thompson -- despite his medication -- is
mentally incompetent and should not be executed. The Tennessee attorney
general, who declined 60 Minutes' request for an interview, is expected to
argue that Thompson understands why he is being punished, is not insane,
and therefore should be executed.
Asked if he's afraid to die, Thompson said, "I'm on drugs right now. And I
feel good. I'm not afraid. When I -- when these drugs wear off a little
bit I'll be afraid again."
"If you were executed what do you think would happen to you afterwards?
What comes next?" Logan asked.
"Well, I know that the dead can speak," Thompson said.
"The dead can speak? You think you would die?" Logan asked.
"I think it'd be a horrible ending," Thompson said. "Because if the dead
can speak that means you got thought in the grave. You got thoughts going
on in the grave. I don't know about that."
(source: CBS News)
Assembly plans vote on abolishing death penalty----State Senate will take
up the issue early next year
Sharon Hazard-Johnson isn't surprised New Jersey lawmakers are suddenly
moving to abolish the state's death penalty.
Lawmakers could have taken action anytime after a report released in
January by a special state commission found the death penalty was more
expensive than life in prison and didn't deter murder.
But Hazard-Johnson notes they waited to set votes until after Tuesday's
election, in which Democrats retained their legislative majority.
"It's been a pretty quiet issue for some time, but I know that everything
is strategy," said the Mays Landing resident whose parents were killed in
their Pleasantville home in 2001 by death row inmate Brian Wakefield.
On Friday, 3 days after the election, Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts
announced the Assembly would vote on Dec. 13 whether to abolish
Senate President Richard J. Codey expects the Senate to take similar
action before the new Legislature organizes on Jan. 8, but a voting date
hasn't been set.
That means the decision on whether to abolish the death penalty will be
decided, in part, by 27 lawmakers who won't be returning next year, either
because they retired or lost re-election.
It also means returning Assembly members can vote knowing they won't face
voters again for 2 years, and returning senators can do the same knowing
they won't face them for 4 years.
"I've thought that if they were going to make an attempt to abolish it
that they would definitely do it in the lame duck session because they
know it couldn't be approved any other way," Hazard-Johnson said.
The so-called lame duck sessions that period following an election but
before the newly elected body convenes often offer opportunities for
leaders to push unpopular or contentious initiatives into law.
But Roberts, D-Camden, insists that's not the case.
"This is time for us to finish unfinished business," he said. "I view this
as a very important element of unfinished business."
And he said abolishing what he called a flawed and immoral death penalty
is the leading concern, not the politics.
New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982 but hasn't executed anyone
since 1963. The Legislature imposed an execution moratorium in December
2005 when it formed the commission that studied the death penalty.
If approved by the Legislature and Gov. Corzine, a death penalty opponent,
the move would make New Jersey the 1st state to abolish capital punishment
since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.
"It is so cruel to the survivors of victims to put them through the
continued torture of a death penalty that has been illusory and not real,"
Roberts said. "In so many ways, it's more just to them, and more fair, and
more proper, to bring these matters to resolution and say to them that
someone who victimized you and your family will pay a very, very
significant price they will be locked up forever without the prospect of
(source: Asbury Park Press)
US presidential candidate Obama cites work on state death penalty reforms
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama can honestly claim to have
made a difference on a matter of life and death.
While an Illinois state senator, Obama was key in getting the state's
notorious death penalty laws changed, including a requirement that in most
cases police interrogations involving capital crimes must be recorded.
The changes enacted in 2003 reformed a system that had sent 13 people to
death row, only to have them released because they were later determined
to be innocent or had been convicted using improper methods.
"Without Barack's energy, imagination and commitment I do not believe the
very substantial and meaningful reforms that became law in Illinois would
have taken place," said author Scott Turow, a member of the state
commission that recommended many of the changes.
Obama often cites his role in Illinois death penalty debate as evidence
that he can resolve thorny issues through compromise.
"We brought police officers and civil rights advocates together to reform
a death penalty system that had sent 13 innocent men to death row," he
declare in a recent presidential debate among candidates in the 2008
Enactment of the 2003 law was a huge political achievement in a state that
had been deeply divided over problems with capital punishment.
Obama was at the center of the emotional debate.
Legislators and lobbyists who worked with him describe a lawmaker who was
personally involved, refused to abandon some needed changes but also
demanded compromises from both law enforcement and death penalty critics.
A proposal to require that police record interrogations of murder suspects
was opposed by police, prosecutors and the Democratic governor and
considered so touchy it was separated from other legislation. It also was
the issue that garnered Obama's special interest.
"I thought the prosecutors and law enforcement would kill it," said Peter
Baroni, who was then a Republican aide to the Illinois Senate's judiciary
committee. "He (Obama) was the one who kept people at the table."
In the end, police organizations supported the recording mandate, and the
measure passed the Senate unanimously.
Illinois' death penalty was an emotional issue in 2003. The courts had
released 13 people from death row because evidence had turned up proving
their innocence or that their convictions had been tainted.
The previous governor, Republican George Ryan, had halted all executions
and commuted the sentences of everyone awaiting execution, giving most of
them life in prison.
The families of many murder victims felt betrayed. Police and prosecutors
felt their every move was being criticized. Death penalty foes were
jubilant but also divided over whether to push for an outright ban.
Lawmakers were looking for way to solve the problems in the law, but also
worried being labeled "soft on crime."
For Obama, a student of constitutional law, it was an issue he relished to
tackle and also one of keen importance to the black voters he would need
if he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004.
The idea that people might be executed for crimes they did not commit also
enraged him. "At minimum, we should agree that innocent people should not
be put to death by the state. At minimum," Obama declared icily during one
Obama saw the issue of police interrogations as key.
Among the men released from death row "a consistent pattern was the faulty
confession," argued Obama. "It struck me that this was the hardest piece
of the puzzle but the one that would ultimately make the most difference
and have the most long-lasting effect."
Participants in the negotiations describe Obama as standing firm on some
issues, but willing to compromise on others.
They cite his refusal to narrow the law so that only a suspect's
confession had to be recorded, insisting that the entire interrogation be
put on tape, so a suspect cannot be threatened or beaten off camera.
"That was a first point at which he could have taken the easy route. He
said no, we're not doing it that way," recalled Kathryn Saltmarsh, who
represented the Illinois Appellate Defender's office in the negotiations.
On other things he was willing to compromise.
He went along with allowing departments to make audio recordings if they
could not afford video equipment and training, and for a judge to allow an
unrecorded statement in some cases but then prosecutors would have to
prove it had been obtained without coercion.
These exceptions were critical to winning the support of law enforcement,
said Laimutis "Limey" Nargelenas, who represented the Illinois Association
of Chiefs of Police in the discussions.
Obama "could have rammed (the legislation) through, but he was willing to
work with us," recalls Nargelenas.
"He is just really a good legislator," says State Sen. John Cullerton, a
Democrat who oversaw the broad package of reforms including raising
standards for death sentences and making it easier for judges to overturn
"I don't know if that will get you many votes for president, but he was an
(source: Associated Press)
Play depicts passion of death penalty
The Tony Award-winning "Parade" confronts controversy directly by
exploring topics including the death penalty and lynching.
"While these themes may be foreign to the musical form, there are so many
uplifting moments, even some comic moments, so the whole thing is really a
journey," said Joseph Megel, director of "Parade," which opens today in
The musical, which runs until Tuesday, is produced as part of the Carolina
Performing Arts series' "Criminal/Justice: The Death Penalty Examined," in
conjunction with the departments of music and communication studies.
"Parade" depicts the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man who is tried
and convicted of the rape and murder of a young girl in Atlanta during the
Although Frank is sentenced to death, the governor commutes his sentence.
As a result, the townspeople decide to take justice into their own hands.
"It shows that the death penalty is too associated with passion and too
little associated with justice," said sophomore Yorick de Visser, an
ensemble member in the show.
Although the death penalty is an important theme in "Parade," Megel said
that it also touches on wider themes.
"One important strain in the music is the culture of the South," Megel
said, "of the Confederate culture and the pride of that culture."
Music director Terry Rhodes said an important aspect of the musical is the
exploration of the growing relationship between Frank and his wife.
"It's a love story bound up in the tragedy of what was happening at that
time," Rhodes said.
As a result the music has an emotionally uplifting quality that is not
completely overshadowed by the more serious themes of the play, Megel
"The music shows a real range of genres," Rhodes said. "We have everything
from cakewalks to the blues. It's a real interesting mix of genres, and it
captures the spirit of the time."
Although the music fits in well with the show's time period, Megel said
other aspects of the performance are somewhat modern.
Members of the ensemble move and adjust the props, which include minimal
benches and a platform, in full view of the audience. Most of the actors
remain onstage throughout the performance.
"Since it is theatrically transparent, it makes us conscious that there is
a message in the story and we are here to learn from it," de Visser said.
And "Parade's" message is still just as relevant now as it was in the
early 1900s, Megel said.
"Some people think we're beyond a culture that lynched a particular group
of people, but we still see seeds of discontent and anger and racism," he
"It continues to be very uncomfortable to confront these issues, but this
story can lead to thinking about that confrontation."
ATTEND THE PLAY----Time: 7:30 p.m. today and Tuesday
Location: Memorial Hall ----Info: comm.unc.edu/newsevents
(source: The Daily Tar Heel)
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