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Should Prisoners with Severe Mental Illness be Spared Execution? (video)

The Death Row Prisoners Suffering From Severe Mental Illness

The case of Gary Green and Andre Thomas highlights the grim reality of how mental illness is treated in the American criminal justice system, particularly on death row. Both men committed horrific crimes under the influence of severe mental illness, yet their conditions and the broader implications of their actions bring into question the ethics and justice of executing individuals who may not fully comprehend their actions.

Gary Green’s Story

Gary Green, who has a long history of untreated mental illness, brutally murdered his wife, Levita Armstead, and her six-year-old daughter, Jasmine Montgomery, in 2009. He also attempted to kill Levita’s two young sons, who survived the attack. Green’s upbringing was marred by physical abuse and a family history of mental illness. Despite showing early signs of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Green never received adequate mental health care. His wife, Levita, had urged him to seek help, but even after a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital, he was released without significant follow-up, leading to the tragic events that followed.

Andre Thomas’ Story

Andre Thomas is known as one of the most severely mentally ill death row inmates in America. In 2004, during a psychotic episode, he murdered his estranged wife, their four-year-old son, and her 13-month-old daughter, believing he was following God’s orders. Thomas, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, has exhibited extreme self-harm, including plucking out his own eyes. Despite his evident severe mental illness, he was declared competent to stand trial after being medicated to stabilize his condition.

The Debate Over Mental Illness and Capital Punishment

The cases of Green and Thomas raise critical questions about the appropriateness of the death penalty for individuals with severe mental illness. While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that the “insane” cannot be legally executed, the definition and application of severe mental illness remain contentious. Legal experts argue that executing individuals who are profoundly mentally ill does not serve justice and fails to acknowledge the complexity of their conditions.

The Legal and Ethical Implications

Defense attorneys and mental health professionals emphasize that individuals like Green and Thomas, who suffer from severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, often do not fully understand the nature or consequences of their actions. Their mental state can distort reality, leading to actions they might not commit if properly treated. However, the brutality of their crimes often overshadows these mitigating factors in the eyes of juries and the public.

Personal Stories and Systemic Failures

Green’s stepson, JT, who survived the attack, and other family members of victims express mixed feelings about the mental illness defense. While acknowledging the impact of untreated mental illness, they emphasize personal responsibility and the need for justice for the victims. The systemic failure to provide adequate mental health care, both in the community and within the justice system, perpetuates a cycle of violence and tragedy.

Legislative Efforts and Public Opinion

Efforts to exempt individuals with severe mental illness from the death penalty, such as Texas House Bill 727, seek to address these ethical concerns. The bill aims to provide a more humane approach, recognizing that severe mental illness fundamentally alters an individual’s understanding and control over their actions. However, public opinion remains divided, with a significant portion of the population supporting capital punishment, particularly in states like Texas.

Conclusion

The stories of Gary Green and Andre Thomas underscore the urgent need to reevaluate the intersection of mental illness and capital punishment. As society grapples with these complex issues, it becomes clear that a more compassionate and informed approach is necessary to ensure justice and humane treatment for all individuals, regardless of their mental health status.

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