[ Tuesday, January 31, 2006 09:51:50 pm, AP ]
LONDON: Hundreds of mentally ill death row inmates in the United States should have their sentences commuted, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
The human rights group said an estimated 10% of the 3,400 people on death row today have conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Similarly, some 10% of the more than 1,000 inmates executed in the last 30 years suffered from some form of mental illness, the London-based group said.
"Amnesty International is opposed to the death penalty in all cases but imposing it on the mentally ill is truly disgraceful," said the charity’s British spokesman Mike Blakemore
Equally disgraceful is the forced medication of those that develop mental illness on death row precisely so that they can be executed."
The execution of a prisoner who is mentally ill at the time of a crime is outlawed in Connecticut. Likewise, a 1986 US Supreme Court ruling outlawed the execution of the mentally ill those who are incapable of understanding the meaning of, or reason for, their execution.
In 2002, the court ruled that executing mentally retarded people generally defined as having an IQ of 70 or lower was unconstitutionally cruel. But many states still execute prisoners with mental illnesses.
In its report, Amnesty said many trials do not hear evidence of a defendant’s mental illness, and US prosecutors exploit public ignorance or fear about mental illness by arguing that the "flat" or "unremorseful" demeanor of mentally ill defendants was further grounds for imposing death sentences.
It said defendants with mental conditions had sometimes been allowed to conduct their own defenses, waive their rights to appeal and "volunteer" to be executed.
The report highlighted the case of Scott Panetti, a murder defendant in Texas, who in 1995 acted as his own attorney despite a history of mental illness.