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Competency for Execution

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While the Supreme Court mulls whether habeas proceedings can go forward while the petitioner is mentally incompetent (see posts yesterday and the day before), there is no doubt that the a murderer cannot be executed if he is so far gone mentally that he does not know what is happening.  That rule goes back centuries.  But who decides and by what standard?

Jonathan Green murdered Christina Neal, age 12, in the course of committing or attempting a sexual assault 12 years ago.  A Texas state court decided that Green has sufficient understanding to be executed.  The state asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the decision.  That court granted a stay of execution and eventually affirmed the decision.  Two days before the execution, a federal district judge granted a stay.  The next day, yesterday, the Fifth Circuit reversed.

The district court ruled that the state proceeding violated due process by failing to allow Petitioner to call forth fact witnesses who would testify as to his medical records, and by failing to apply the proper constitutional standards, all in contravention of Panetti v. Quarterman. We find no basis in Panetti or elsewhere for the district court's holding that a competency hearing at which Petitioner testified and both Petitioner and Respondent introduced expert testimony, including medical records stipulated as accurate, violates the due process clause. We also find no basis for concluding that the state court's decision that Petitioner was competent to be executed was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. Finally, we find that Petitioner has failed to present clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption in favor of upholding the state court's competency finding. Accordingly, we vacate the district court's stay of execution and remand with instructions to dismiss the petition.
Update:  The opinion is now available on the USCA5 website.

Update 2:  The Supreme Court denied a stay.  No dissent is noted.  Michael Graczyk has this report for AP.

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