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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Missouri, the Death Penalty and the Shame it Brings on the State

It seems Missouri hit the New York Times today. Unfortunately, as is so frequently and repeatedly happens lately for Missouri and Kansas, lots of "red", Republican, Right Wing states and even the nation, it's not for anything good. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Just now, Missouri is scheduling the death penalty for this March 17 for a citizen who is 74 years old, who had horrible brain damage and loss, years ago and who now has an IQ of 71, it's reported:

If ever there were a case of "extenuating circumstances", surely it seems this would be the one. Some of the facts:

In January 1972, Cecil Clayton was cutting wood at his family’s sawmill in southeastern Missouri when a piece of lumber flew off the circular saw blade and struck him in the forehead. The impact caved in part of Mr. Clayton’s skull, driving bone fragments into his brain.

Doctors saved his life, but in doing so had to remove 20 percent of his frontal lobe, which psychiatrists say led Mr. Clayton to be tormented for years by violent impulses, schizophrenia and extreme paranoia. In 1996, his lawyers say, those impulses drove Mr. Clayton to kill a law enforcement officer.

Lawyers for Mr. Clayton, who has an I.Q. of 71, say he should be spared because his injury has made it impossible for him to grasp the significance of his death sentence, scheduled for March 17.

“There was a profound change in him that he doesn’t understand, and neither did his family,” said Elizabeth Unger Carlyle, one of Mr. Clayton’s lawyers.

But wait, it gets worse:

Mr. Clayton is missing about 7.7 percent of his brain.

“If you can prove mental retardation, you can get exempted, but mental illness alone is not an exemption to the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

What anyone evaluating this situation needs to understand is what the frontal lobe is responsible for in we humans: "...the part of the brain involved in impulse control, problem solving and social behavior..."

With all this information, it might seem as though the courts and state might take all this into consideration and waive the death penalty for Mr. Clayton.

But you'd be mistaken.

The conviction and death sentence have been upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. His lawyers are now seeking a competency hearing for Mr. Clayton to determine whether he understands his circumstances.

And this is where we stand now with this case:

In a court filing last month, Missouri’s attorney general, Chris Koster, wrote that Dr. Reynolds had “found Clayton’s comments concerning the emotional stress that the threat of execution is causing him are evidence that on a visceral as well as cognitive level, Clayton understands his potential fate.”

And if that's not enough, there's still more,

In Mr. Clayton’s case, two years after the sawmill accident, he checked himself into a mental hospital for 15 months because he feared he could no longer control his temper. After his release, Mr. Clayton decided that he could no longer perform the work required at the sawmill, and instead took a job as a police officer in Purdy, Mo. He quit after nine months.

“He was so unsure of himself and worried about his judgment to the point that he felt he should not be in a position of responsibility,” according to a 2001 filing by his lawyers to the Missouri State Supreme Court.

In 1983, Dr. Douglas Stevens, a psychiatrist, wrote an evaluation about Mr. Clayton that proved prophetic.

“There is presently no way that this man could be expected to function in the world of work,” Dr. Stevens wrote. “Were he pushed to do so he would become a danger both to himself and to others. He has had both suicidal and homicidal impulses, so far controlled, though under pressure they would be expected to exacerbate.”

Surely we Missourians are better, smarter and more empathetic to another soul's situation than to allow this execution go forward.  Surely we're better Christians or Jews or Muslims or atheists or whatever. Surely we're better humans than to go through with this.


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