2001: Larry Keith Robison

15 comments January 21st, 2009 Kristin Houle

(Thanks to Kristin Houlé of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for the guest post, adapted from her Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resource Guide (pdf link). Kristin blogs at Prevention Not Punishment. -ed.)

A mentally ill man who had been refused treatment because his condition had not yet turned him violent suffered lethal injection in Texas eight years ago today for finally turning violent.

Larry Robison was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 21, three years before the murders for which he was sentenced to die. He began hearing voices and acting strangely as a teenager, claiming to have secret paranormal mental powers and the ability to read people’s minds and move objects from a distance. He joined the Army but was discharged after only a year.

Robison’s parents sought help and warned mental health authorities of their son’s erratic and increasingly aggressive behavior, but were told that the state could offer no resources unless he turned violent. He was shuffled in and out of mental hospitals, admitted after aggressive behavior and released after a period of medicated passivity. He received no regular, ongoing treatment. Robison was not covered by his parents’ insurance, nor did he have his own.

Robison claimed that voices in his head, which came through the clocks in his room, spewed out warnings about Old Testament prophecies of the Apocalypse and told him to murder, behead, and mutilate his roommate, Bruce Gardner. Robison then went next door and murdered four of his neighbors. When authorities arrested him, he told them that he had committed the murders in order to “find God.”

The four prosecutors developing the case against Larry Robison recognized his past history of mental illness and were willing to accept an insanity plea in exchange for life in a mental institution. The Tarrant County district attorney overruled them, however, and ordered them to seek a death sentence. In the courtroom, most evidence of Robison’s mental illness was ruled inadmissible, so the jury heard little of it. None of the three doctors who had diagnosed Robison before the crime as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia were called to testify at his trial. The jury rejected his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Once in prison, evidence of Robison’s mental illness continued to accumulate. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution at one point, doubtful as to whether or not he was competent to be executed. When asked what the execution would be like, Robison replied that he felt like “a little kid at Christmas time waiting for Santa Claus to come.” Eventually, he demanded that his lawyers cease filing appeals based on his mental illness, but only if the state agreed to execute him on the night of a full moon. Despite protests from mental health organizations and concerned citizens throughout the world, the state complied.

Larry Robison’s case drew attention largely as a result of the tireless efforts of his own family, taking a public profile unusual for the family of the condemned. CBS News’ 48 Hours profiled the Robisons shortly before Larry’s execution. They continue to maintain a website, larryrobison.org; mother Lois Robison remains a vocal critic of executing the mentally ill, and delivered this address to a Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights conference last fall.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Guest Writers,Lethal Injection,Murder,Other Voices,Texas,USA

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2001: Mona Fandey, witch doctor

6 comments November 2nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2001, former pop singer and shaman Mona Fandey was hanged with two accomplices at Kajang Prison outside Kuala Lumpur, closing the noose on one of the world’s weirdest and most sensational recent crimes.

Aging B-list pop crooner Maznah Ismail — “Mona Fandey” was her stage name — had transitioned to a gig as a high-rent spiritualist and healer, known locally as a bomoh.

In that capacity, she and hubby Mohd Affandi Abdul Rahman landed a politician with more money than sense. After collecting a bunch of cash from him, they got him to lie down with his eyes closed as part of a ritual that was supposed to make money fall from the skies. Instead, the couple’s assistant Juraimi Hussin chopped off his head, and Mona went on a shopping spree.

The effect of the grisly celebrity murder was heightened by Mona’s cheery demeanor throughout the trial and thereafter, as if a murderess’ notoriety was the pinnacle she never achieved as an entertainer.

She and her husband maintained an unsettling placidity about their demise to the very end. Some sources say she uttered the mysterious remark, “I will never die” just before her hanging. (Others have everyone silent.)

The end of the three killers was hardly the end of such a headline-grabbing case in the public memory. Her cell is becoming a protected “heritage site”, and her story has been treated on screens both small and silver.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,Infamous,Malaysia,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Women

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2001: Lois Nadean Smith

8 comments December 4th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 2001, Lois Nadean Smith was executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma for the murder of her son’s ex-girlfriend.

By the standards of the 1,099 executions in the “modern” death penalty in America — those since the 1972 Furman v. Georgia Supreme Court decision — very little especially distinguished Smith‘s case.

Sentenced some 19 years before her death, she had committed a single horrifying and rather tawdry kidnapping and murder. Her guilt was in no question, although she stood trial along with her son — who received a life sentence — and would later argue on appeal that their lawyer had pursued a defense intentionally shifting blame onto her in order to save him.

As a woman, though, Smith was inherently an oddity. This date completed a remarkable year in which Oklahoma, having not put any woman to death since 1903, emptied its women’s death row with three such executions.

Including those three, only eleven women have been executed in the United States since Furman — or, indeed, since the Kennedy administration. There had been no calendar year in which three women were executed in the entire country since 1953 … and no single state had executed three women in one year since Virginia when the women in question were property.*

According to the Death Penalty Information Center:

Death sentences and actual executions for female offenders are also rare in comparison to such events for male offenders. In fact, women are more likely to be dropped out of the system the further the capital punishment system progresses. Following in summary outline form are the data indicating this screening out effect:

  • women account for about 1 in 10 (10%) murder arrests;
  • women account for only 1 in 50 (2.1%) death sentences imposed at the trial level;
  • women account for only 1 in 70 (1.4%) persons presently on death row; and
  • women account for only 1 in 90 (1.1%) persons actually executed in the modern era.**

At the end of a chain of improbabilities, Smith apparently met her death with composure. “To the families, I want to say I’m sorry for the pain and loss I’ve caused you,” she said from the gurney. “I ask that you forgive me. You must forgive to be forgiven.”

* See charts of female executions through 1962 and since 1900, both courtesy of the comprehensive Espy file of all executions in American history.

** This calculation appears to be slightly dated, with women currently accounting almost exactly 1 in 100 persons actually executed. The last 117 American prisoners executed have all been men.

(All stats are as of publication date in December 2007)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Common Criminals,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Oklahoma,USA,Women

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