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Opening Arguments

Execution stayed

This just in:

The Indiana Supreme Court stayed the execution Wednesday of a man scheduled to be put to death Friday in the 1993 slaying of an Indiana State trooper.

The court, in its 3-2 decision, stated that the arguments raised by Norman Timberlake's attorneys that he should not be executed because he is mentally ill are similar to those in a case the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing in the case of a condemned Texas man.

Timberlake's lawyers have actually used just about every excuse there is in their attempts to stop the execution, including: 1. He didn't do it, 2. He's mentally ill and, 3. Lethal injections are cruel and unusual. It seemed like a risk to me to argue both 1 and 2, since his mental state is irrelevant if he didn't even do it. But this just shows that if you throw enough against the wall, something is bound to stick once in a while.

But it's valid to consider the mental-illness question, if we're talking about illness so severe that the person is divorced from reality. Courts have already said it isn't right to execute children who haven't formed the concept of right and wrong yet, and the mentally retarded, for the same reason.


Steve Towsley
Wed, 01/17/2007 - 6:57pm

I think it's reasonable in this country to put a temporary hold on cases which are clearly relevant to a pending Supreme Court decision, even in a case with aggravating circumstances.

But it is no less reasonable to rely upon the conclusions of those who personally defended, prosecuted, deliberated, judged and sentenced a cop-killer. Had Timberlake not been sane enough to distinguish right from wrong, I doubt he could have been convicted under the already strict mental capacity parameters of existing law, never mind the Supreme Court's adjustment to the rules.

It is hard to imagine that the SC will establish some new permissive definition of the rules which is sufficiently broad to change anything about our Timberlake matter.

Nevertheless, I'll await with interest the high court's ruling and its effect, if any, on local cases, present and future. I honestly doubt we need any really significant broadening of the definitions that mitigate violent crimes on grounds of mental or emotional disturbance.