NYT Editorial on Abdul Awkal
June 8, 2012
EDITORIAL NEW YORK TIMES
A Stay of Execution
Published: June 6, 2012
Doing what law and justice required, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio on Tuesday granted a two-week reprieve to Abdul Awkal, who had been scheduled to be executed Wednesday morning. Mr. Awkal, who was convicted of killing his estranged wife and brother-in-law in 1992, has a long history of severe mental illness and has been found mentally incompetent by three courts in the past 20 years.
On Monday, a state trial judge found there was enough evidence to justify a hearing about Mr. Awkal’s sanity but that he could not hold one immediately because witnesses were not available. The Ohio Supreme Court should have granted a stay of execution, which it wrongly denied shortly before the governor stepped in because of the trial court’s finding.
That court can now proceed with a thorough hearing, which Mr. Awkal is due under Ohio law and under the Constitution. A defense psychiatrist who examined Mr. Awkal in late May concluded that he is “a severely mentally ill man” who suffers from “a chronic psychotic disorder” and delusions that “prevent him from having a rational understanding of the reason for his execution.” Mr. Awkal has said that he believes he is scheduled for execution because he angered the C.I.A.
The Supreme Court has long held that it is unconstitutional to execute the insane under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. It further ruled ina 2007 case that a state may not put to death a convict who does not understand the reason for his execution and that it must give the defendant a fair hearing about his sanity if he provides enough evidence to justify one.
As Justice Anthony Kennedy explained, a convict may understand that he is on death row because of a heinous crime but may, nonetheless, be delusional in believing that he is to be executed for a nonsensical or unrelated reason.
Shockingly, it took Governor Kasich’s reprieve to permit Mr. Awkal to have the required hearing. But his story is not unusual. The death penalty system fails to take adequate account of severe mental illness, whether at trial, at sentencing or in postconviction proceedings. This is yet another reason the penalty should be abolished and further evidence of the grave injustices committed in this system.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on June 7, 2012, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: A Stay of Execution.