That's the title of an editorial in Saturday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the case of Steven Staley. LINK
Asked to weigh disturbingly conflicting interests in Staley's case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals essentially punted on Sept. 12. The judges decided only that they didn't have jurisdiction to rule on whether a trial judge's order violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
State District Judge Wayne Salvant in Fort Worth had ordered the state to forcibly give Staley anti-psychotic drugs if he wouldn't take them voluntarily. Staley, who has been diagnosed with severe paranoid schizophrenia, says he believes the drugs poison him and won't take them.
But state officials want him medicated so he'll be competent enough to be executed. A Tarrant County jury voted in 1991 that he should get the death penalty for shooting Read after trying to rob a Steak & Ale in west Fort Worth. Two accomplices received long prison sentences.
In a brief opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals addressed only whether procedural law permits an appeal of Salvant's order.
But this case isn't about proper procedure. It's about fundamental concepts about justice and what the Constitution allows. Staley was lucid when he committed the crime, but his mental health has deteriorated so much that he can be made competent only temporarily and by artificial means.
What, then, can and should the state do?
The U.S. Supreme Court has read the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment to bar states from executing mentally ill inmates who don't understand the reasons they are receiving the death penalty. In another context, though, the court has said that prisons can force medication on inmates who are dangerous to themselves or others.