Texas Puts Mentally Ill Killer to Death

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A convicted killer diagnosed as mentally ill was put to death despite a highly unusual recommendation from the state parole board that he be spared.

Kelsey Patterson, a 50-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, jabbered about being innocent and demanded his rights just before receiving a lethal injection Tuesday evening. His last words were a plea: “Give me my life back.”

Gov. Rick Perry rejected the parole board’s recommendation moments after the Supreme Court also refused to stay the execution, punishment for a double slaying in East Texas almost 12 years ago.

Patterson’s execution renewed the legal quandary of whether it is proper to execute an inmate who is mentally ill after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. The high court has also said an inmate may not be executed if he doesn’t know why he’s on death row and the punishment he faces.

At least three mentally ill prisoners have been executed in Texas since the mental retardation ruling two years ago.

In a statement, Perry cited the findings of no fewer than 10 state and federal judicial reviews examining Patterson’s claims of mental illness and competency. “In each instance,” he said, “the courts have determined there is no legal bar to his execution.”

“This defendant is a very violent individual. Texas has no life without parole sentencing option, and no one can guarantee this defendant would never be freed to commit other crimes were his sentence commuted.”

Patteron’s lawyer, J. Gary Hart, criticized Perry’s reasoning.

“He’s basically saying that all we can do with someone like him is take him out back and shoot him,” Hart said.

The parole board action, which came Monday in a 5-1 vote, marked the first time since Texas resumed executions in 1982 that a commutation was recommended at such a late stage.

Patterson was condemned for the 1992 shootings of Dorthy Harris, 41, a secretary at an oil company office in Palestine, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas, and her boss, Louis Oates, 63.

“I started the day off very pessimistic but it ended as I prayed it would,” said Harris’ daughter, Michele Smith, who watched the execution.

Patterson previously was charged with two nonfatal shootings but never was tried after being found mentally incompetent.

Throughout his capital murder trial, outbursts earned Patterson repeated expulsions from the courtroom. He frequently talked about “remote control devices” and “implants” that controlled him.

While on death row, he told people and wrote nearly incomprehensible letters to courts about having amnesty and a permanent stay of execution.

State prosecutors successfully opposed Patterson’s appeals, citing his references to stays of execution as indication he was aware of his punishment.

In March, Perry for the first time since taking office in 2000 commuted the death sentence of a prisoner. That inmate is mentally retarded, and was not within hours of a scheduled execution.

In 1998, four days before former self-confessed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas was to die, then-Gov. George W. Bush commuted Lucas’ sentence after questions were raised about his conviction. It was the only death sentence commuted by Bush in his six years in office when 152 executions were carried out.

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Associated Press writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Mark Babineck in Houston and Kristie Rieken in Dallas contributed to this report.

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