Texas governor rejects reprieve for mentally ill killer

Inmate executed despite parole board's motion

May 19, 2004|By Scott Gold | Scott Gold,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON - Bringing an abrupt end to a case that had ignited debate over condemning the mentally ill to die, Texas prison officials executed a killer yesterday who was a diagnosed schizophrenic, who once claimed that a plate of beans had spoken to him and who accused his sisters of being spies.

Kelsey Patterson, 50, was killed by lethal injection.

Patterson was convicted in the 1992 slaying of a businessman and the man's secretary in his hometown of Palestine. After the shootings, Patterson went home, took off all his clothes except his socks and stood in the middle of the street until the police came. Investigators never determined a motive.

Delusional and paranoid, Patterson believed until the end that he had been granted some sort of amnesty from execution, said his attorney, J. Gary Hart. As a result, Patterson refused to fill out forms that are associated with executions here, which meant he did not request a final meal. Guards made sandwiches and cookies available to him.

Relatives of both victims watched as prison officials asked Patterson whether he wanted to make a last statement. Patterson replied: "Statement to what?" He then launched into a rambling defense of sorts, including: "My truth will always be my truth. There is no kin and no friend, no fear [of] what you do to me, no kin to you, undertaker."

The U.S. Supreme Court has outlawed executing the mentally retarded, calling such an act cruel and unusual punishment. No similar protections are offered to the mentally ill, and civil rights advocates and death penalty opponents seized on the Patterson case in recent months to illustrate what they perceive as a disparity.

On Monday, that campaign gained traction when the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted, 5-1, that Patterson's sentence should be commuted to a life prison term. The vote, a recommendation to Gov. Rick Perry, was seen as extraordinary in a state that executes, by far, more people than any other.

Commission members were swayed by a petition written by Hart, who argued that because of Patterson's severe mental deficiencies, an execution would not "serve either the retributive or deterrence goals of capital punishment."

Less than an hour before Patterson was scheduled to die, however, Perry announced that he was rejecting the board's advice. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to intervene.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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