United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
JOHN C. MIDDLETON, Petitioner,
DONALD P. ROPER, Respondent
For John Middleton, Petitioner: Joseph John Perkovich, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICE OF JOSEPH PERKOVICH, New York, N.Y. USA; Richard H. Sindel, SINDEL AND SINDEL, P.C., Clayton, MO USA.
For Don Roper, Respondent: Bill L. Thompson, LEAD ATTORNEY, MISSOURI SUPREME COURT, Jefferson City, MO USA; Michael J. Spillane, Stephen D. Hawke, LEAD ATTORNEYS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MISSOURI, Jefferson City, MO USA.
MEMORANDUM, ORDER AND STAY OF EXECUTION
CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Petitioner John C. Middleton is scheduled to be executed shortly after midnight tonight. Yesterday he filed a second habeas petition alleging that he is not competent to be executed, and that his planned execution would violate his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as recognized in Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986) and Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 127 S.Ct. 2842, 168 L.Ed.2d 662 (2007). He seeks a stay of execution and a hearing on his Ford claim.
I conclude that Middleton has made " a substantial threshold showing of insanity" such that the execution should be stayed until he may receive a hearing on his claim under Ford that he is not competent to be executed. This is not a conclusion that he is actually incompetent, it is only a conclusion that he is entitled to a hearing on the issue.
In Ford the United States Supreme Court held that the " Eighth Amendment prohibits a State from carrying out a sentence of death upon a prisoner who is insane." Although the Court did not provide a standard for determining competency, in a concurring opinion, Justice Powell wrote that " the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution only of those who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it." 477 U.S. at 422.
In Panetti the Court agreed with Justice Powell's definition, noting that " [a] prisoner's awareness of the State's rationale for an execution is not the same as a rational understanding of it." 551 U.S. at 959. The Court rejected the more restrictive standard that had been adopted by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That circuit had held that so long as a petitioner understood that he was to be executed and was aware of the reason the state was executing him, whether his understanding of those facts was rational was irrelevant. 551 U.S. at 956. In Panetti the Supreme Court held that a rational understanding was required, although it declined to set a more precise standard, and instead directed the lower court to hold a hearing to determine whether the petitioner's delusions " may render a subject's perception of reality so distorted that he should be deemed incompetent." Id. at 961-962.
Petitioner Middleton has provided evidence that he has been diagnosed with a variety of mental health disorders, and has received a number of psychiatric medications over the years. He has a lengthy history of abusing methamphetamine and other drugs. The affidavits he provided from other inmates and from the counsel who have dealt with him indicate that his mental state has deteriorated over the 17 years he has been incarcerated. The inmates indicate that he frequently talks to people who are not there, and tells stories that could not have had any basis in reality.
Middleton has also provided an affidavit from a psychiatrist who examined him and reviewed the records available. Dr. William S. Logan offered a preliminary opinion that petitioner " lacks a rational understanding of the reason for the execution and is therefore not competent to be executed due to a diagnosis of delusional disorder, a psychotic mental illness." Affidavit of William S. Logan, M.D., at p. 3 (doc. # 130-1). Dr. Logan described Middleton's mental state:
Mr. Middleton's mental state is characterized by rambling, tangential speech; rapid switching to irrelevant topics; auditory hallucinations to which he responds, at times observed by others; suspiciousness and a preoccupation with irrelevant minor details which hinders the efforts of his defense attorneys, a pervasive distrust of the legal system including the efforts of previous attorneys on his behalf; and delusional ideas generally persecutory and grandiose in nature.
Affidavit of William S. Logan, M.D., at p. 2 (doc. # 130-1). Although the psychiatrist characterizes this opinion as " preliminary" because he wishes to obtain additional information, it is sufficient to make the " substantial threshold showing" of incompetence that Ford recognized would entitle him to a stay of execution and a full hearing. This ...