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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Meds Needed Before Execution Allowed

Posted on Wed, Apr. 12, 2006

Forced medication ordered for Death Row inmate
Judge rules Death Row inmate must take anti-psychotic drugs


FORT WORTH -- Death Row inmate Steven Kenneth Staley, convicted for killing the manager of a Steak and Ale nearly 17 years ago, should be physically forced to take anti-psychotic medication -- an order that, in essence, could make Staley competent enough to be executed -- a judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Wayne Salvant's decision came nearly two months after he stopped Staley's execution, ruling that Staley, a paranoid schizophrenic, is too mentally ill.

The law requires that Staley be mentally competent before he is executed.

"The whole idea of holding somebody down and injecting them so that we can then say, with a straight face, this person is now competent so we can kill them, I think that smacks of an Orwellian-Soviet-style approach to criminal justice," said Jack Strickland, Staley's attorney. "Most people, even conservatives, would find that very offensive. It bothers me."

Prosecutors Chuck Mallin and Jim Gibson said they filed the motion to forcibly medicate Staley, who refuses to take his medication, in part to carry out a jury's decision more than a decade ago that Staley should die for his crimes.

"People in this community tend to forget the brutal nature of this crime because it was in 1989, going on 17 years," Mallin said, adding that he believes this may be the first time a Texas judge has ordered an incompetent Death Row inmate to be forcibly medicated.

"I'm not going to apologize for any actions we take."

Staley, 43, was sentenced to death in April 1991 for fatally shooting Robert Read, 35, after taking him hostage during a botched robbery at a Steak and Ale in west Fort Worth.

According to court records and news stories, Staley and two friends, all armed with guns, demanded access to the cash register after eating at the restaurant on Oct. 14, 1989.

As customers and employees huddled at the rear of the restaurant, an assistant manager slipped out and called police.

Police surrounded the restaurant, and Read, the manager, offered himself as a hostage to spare the others. The trio took him up on his offer and held him at gunpoint as they tried to escape.

Read, who was married and had three small children, was fatally shot when he resisted as the robbers tried to force him into a hijacked car.

Last month, just six days before Staley was to be executed, Salvant rescinded Staley's death warrant after two doctors testified that he was incompetent and unable to understand why he has to die.

Last year, Staley came within five hours of execution before an appellate court stopped the punishment for basically the same reason: Staley's mental condition had deteriorated so much that he couldn't comprehend his punishment.

During the hearing in Salvant's court Tuesday, Staley, seated at the defense table, picked at his unruly hair and red jumpsuit and could be heard mumbling nonsensical phrases.

At one point, he put his handcuffed hands on the back of his head and said something that sounded like "Whoop! Tootie fruity. Want to go back to my cell now."

Staley was recently brought back to the Tarrant County Jail from Death Row in Livingston for the hearing.

Strickland has said Staley has a long history of mental illness. His mother was a schizophrenic who attempted to stab Staley and his sister with a knife and once tried to pound a wooden stake into Staley's chest.

His father was an alcoholic who was killed in a car accident. His grandfather committed suicide. As a teenager, Staley also attempted suicide, the documents state.

Since Staley was sent to Death Row in 1991, he has been hospitalized nearly 20 times, for as long as nine months, because he is psychotic.

Strickland argued that forcibly medicating Staley to execute him is unconstitutional and violates his right to privacy. He said he is not aware of any case in Texas or in any of the 38 death penalty states where a court has authorized the forcible medication of an incompetent inmate for execution.

Prosecutors Mallin and Gibson reminded the judge that inmates are forcibly medicated all the time in prison. The only difference is they are not on Death Row.

The prosecutors maintained that they had an "essential interest" in carrying out the jury's verdict, that it was medically appropriate to forcibly medicate Staley and that the side effects of the drugs did not outweigh the benefits.

In the end, the judge sided with the state, but the issue is far from over.

Staley will not be forcibly medicated right away.

The judge is giving Strickland time to appeal to a higher court.

Although there is case law on this subject, it is not clear-cut.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was cruel and unusual for states to execute a person who is incapable of understanding what is happening or why. But in 1990, the high court ruled that it was OK to forcibly medicate inmates in certain cases, if the treatment is essential for the defendant's safety or the safety of others.

In 2003, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Arkansas officials to forcibly administer anti-psychotic medication to control an inmate's behavior, which, in turn, made him competent enough to execute.

The Supreme Court has not gotten involved in the constitutionality of medicating Death Row inmates to make them competent to be executed.

Richard Dieter, executive director of Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, said that he isn't sure why the Supreme Court hasn't weighed in on the issue but that it doesn't arise often.

Whether the high court will look at Staley's case remains to be seen, but the legal community will be following the case closely.

"It will be watched by the other states and by the Supreme Court," Dieter said. "It's significant because it is an unresolved issue."

Melody McDonald, (817) 390-7386