"Judge Salvant in Fort Worth postpones hearing on execution of mentally ill Death Row inmate Staley," is the Fort Worth Star-Telegram report by Martha Deller.
For the third time in five years, a mentally ill Death Row inmate has gotten a reprieve while attorneys continue a rare legal battle over whether he can be forcibly medicated to make him sane enough to be executed.
Steven Kenneth Staley, 48, was scheduled to be executed Dec. 1 for the 1989 robbery-slaying of restaurant manager Robert Read, who was fatally shot after offering himself as a hostage to spare the lives of his staff and customers at a Steak & Ale in west Fort Worth.
But State District Judge Wayne Salvant, who set Staley's execution date in September, postponed a hearing this week to decide whether Staley is mentally competent to be put to death.
Salvant said he expects to sign a separate order to stay Staley's execution until he determines his competency.
Staley, who was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic after he was sent to Death Row in 1991, had his 2005 and 2006 executions stayed after experts determined that he didn't understand why he was being put to death.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited the execution of people with mental retardation, it has not ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who had a serious mental illness at the time of the crime.
The Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot execute someone who is not able to understand why they are being executed. But the high court and other courts have not prohibited states from forcibly medicating inmates to restore their competency before they are put to death.
In 2006, Salvant ordered prison officials to give Staley anti-psychotic drugs that Staley had refused because he believed they would poison him. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined to reverse the order.
Salvant said he believes that Staley has been medicated since he ordered it in 2006.
"The case law said we can do that," Salvant said.
Strickland has repeatedly said forcing inmates to take medication against their will is cruel and unusual punishment and should be stopped immediately.
Prosecutor Chuck Mallin, chief of the district attorney's appellate division, disagrees. He said the medication is necessary to control Staley's psychosis and carry out the 1991 sentence.
In September, after another round of defense appeals was denied, Salvant set the Dec. 1 execution date. Staley was then returned to the Tarrant County Jail, where he was to have had a competency hearing Monday.
On Tuesday, Salvant granted Strickland's request to delay the hearing so he could find a mental health expert to counter a state expert who has already examined Staley. Strickland said he expects a new round of appeals to delay Staley's execution for four to six years.
But Staley will have to get a new attorney to handle future appeals. Strickland, who has represented Staley since 1999, is returning to the district attorney's office in January as deputy chief district attorney. He has been a criminal defense attorney for 30 years.
The question of competency to be executed was addressed in a 1989 Supreme Court case which set the standard for evaluating competency to be executed, Ford v. Wainwright. The Supreme Court revisited the subject in 2007 in the Texas case of Scott Panetti; more on Panetti v. Quarterman, via Oyez.
Staley's was the final scheduled execution in 2010, according to TDCJ. One execution date has already been ordered for 2011. It is unlikely, though still possible, that additional execution dates could be set for 2010.
Texas has carried out 17 executions in 2010, the fewest since 2001, when there were also 17 excutions. Texas has carried out 464 executions since 1982, by far the most of any state in America, accounting for more than 37% of the nation's post-Furman executions.