"Court to rule if condemned Houston killer is sane," is the title of Allan Turner's report in today's Houston Chronicle.
Condemned double-killer Gerald Eldridge has told authorities he has seen spaceships, wrangled with a winged monster that keeps people from going to heaven and, during jailhouse visits, genially chatted with his old girlfriend, the same one whose 1993 murder sent him to death row.
On Monday, U.S. Judge Lee Rosenthal began hearing evidence regarding the killer's psychological soundness. In November 2009, she stayed Eldridge's execution two hours before lethal drugs were to have been administered, so the Houston laborer could receive additional psychological testing.
Opening testimony Monday, psychiatrist Dr. Pradan Nathan told the judge he had treated Eldridge for about a year on death row beginning in June 2010. Eldridge, he said, suffered from "looseness of association," a psychological malady he said was hard to fake. Nathan told the judge he had on several occasions modified dosage of powerful anti-psychosis drugs in an effort to curb his symptoms.
Nathan also testified that the inmate expressed fear that prison workers were poisoning his food. The fact that Eldridge had lost 50 pounds lent credence to the premise that the killer truly believed he was in peril, he said.
Roe Wilson, chief of the Harris County District Attorney's post-conviction writ division, said "unusual beliefs" do not necessarily mean a killer is incompetent to be executed. Under state law, it must be determined the inmate is unaware he is to be put to death and why.
If found incompetent, he will be returned to death row. At the instigation of the District Attorney's Office, he subsequently may be re-evaluated and, if found competent, executed.
Earlier coverage of Gerald Elridge's case begins at the link.
The Supreme Court established standards to assess whether severely mentally ill inmates are competent to be executed in a 1986 case, Ford v. Wainwright; more via Oyez.
I expect that we will be hearing more on this subject in the near future. Steven Staley is scheduled to be executed by Texas, May 16. Staley has a long history of severe mental illness and has been the subject of a court order to force medication in order to make him competent to be executed.