Death Penalty

ABA letter expresses concern about execution of death-row inmate with mental-illness history

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Corridor in an abandoned penitentiary.

Corridor in an abandoned penitentiary. Shutterstock photo.

The ABA is expressing concern about the scheduled execution of an Arkansas death-row inmate with a history of severe mental illness.

ABA President Hilarie Bass wrote to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is considering a clemency petition filed on behalf of the inmate, Jack Greene, according to an ABA press release. Greene was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of retired pastor Sidney Burnett.

The Oct. 25 letter (PDF) asks Hutchinson to consider evidence that Greene was mentally ill at the time of the murder and that he is currently incompetent to be executed. Greene’s execution is scheduled for Nov. 9.

The letter notes that the ABA doesn’t take a position on the death penalty itself, but it has an interest in promoting a fair and accurate justice system. Based on those principles, the ABA opposes the execution of people with a mental disorder or disability that impairs their capacity to understand the nature and purpose of the punishment, or to appreciate the reason for its imposition.

“There is ample evidence both that Mr. Greene was mentally ill at the time he committed his crime and that his mental state has deteriorated such that he is currently incompetent to be executed,” the letter says.

“Extensive records show that Mr. Greene began exhibiting symptoms of mental illness over a decade before the crime for which he is on death row. He was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital as early as 1985, nine years before the crime. Mr. Greene’s delusions continued after he was sentenced to death in 1992 and are still present—indeed, they have worsened since then.”

A psychiatrist diagnosed Greene with a psychotic disorder in 2011 and 2017, and a psychologist diagnosed him with delusional disorder this month, the letter says.

Greene believes that he is the victim of a conspiracy and that he suffers from physical injuries, even though his only injuries are self-inflicted. “He frequently contorts himself, stuffs paper into his nose and ears until bloody (which can even be seen in his official prison photos), and eats out of his sink to minimize the pain he believes he suffers,” the letter says.

The letter urges Hutchinson to consider Greene’s “long history of severe mental illness, how his psychotic disorder impacts his understanding of his execution, and whether the use of the death penalty in this case will effectively further the goal of fair and proportional justice in Arkansas.”

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