Death Penalty

Texas court tosses sentence of state's longest-serving death row inmate

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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the sentence of the state’s longest-serving death row inmate.

Raymond Riles has been on death row in Texas since 1976, despite being deemed mentally incompetent to be executed multiple times. On Wednesday, the court remanded the 70-year-old’s case to Harris County, Texas, for resentencing, since the jury wasn’t instructed to consider his mental illness when deciding his punishment.

“We’re very pleased,” Thea Posel, one of Riles’ attorneys, told the Texas Tribune. “It’s clearly established under Texas and [U.S.] Supreme Court law that Mr. Riles’ death sentence is unconstitutional.”

The Associated Press has additional coverage.

Riles was convicted of shooting and killing John Thomas Henry, a used-car dealer, after he and another man tried to return a recently purchased car to him in 1974, the Texas Tribune reports. At trial, Riles claimed insanity, and multiple experts also testified that he had paranoid delusions, psychosis and schizophrenia.

At the time, the Associated Press reports, Texas state law did not require jurors to consider mental illness or other mitigating evidence when determining whether a defendant should be put to death. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that Texas jury instructions were unconstitutional, but lower courts failed to enforce its decision until at least 2007.

Jim Marcus, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and another one of Riles’ attorneys, told the Associated Press that inmates like Riles are “housed on death row because their judgment is a sentence of death, but it can’t be carried out because they’re too mentally ill.”

“The mental health evidence that applicant presented at his trial is the type of evidence that both this Court and the Supreme Court have come to regard as the kind of ‘two-edged’ mitigating evidence calling for a separate, mitigation-focused jury instruction,” the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said in its opinion. “Applicant’s jury did not receive any such instruction.”

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg did not challenge the effort to overturn Riles’ death sentence.

She told the Associated Press on Thursday that she is “glad Texas’ highest (criminal) court agreed with prosecutors and defense lawyers that jurors must be able to consider a defendant’s mental health history before deciding punishment.”

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