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State ex rel. Middleton v. Russell

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

July 16, 2014

State ex rel. John C. Middleton, Petitioner,
v.
Terry Russell, Respondent

Middleton was represented by Richard H. Sindel and Kathryn B. Parish of Sindel Sindel & Noble PC in Clayton.

The state was represented by Michael J. Spillane, Gregory M. Goodwin and Caroline M. Coulter of the attorney general's office in Jefferson City.

Russell, C.J., Breckenridge, Fischer and Wilson, JJ., concur

OPINION

Per Curiam

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN HABEAS CORPUS

On May 30, 2014, this Court issued its order setting inmate John C. Middleton's execution for July 16, 2014. As the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held in its opinion dated July 15, 2014, if Middleton believes that he is incompetent to be executed and that his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment, he is required to present that claim to this Court before asserting it in the federal courts. Middleton v. Roper, No. 14-2667 (July 15, 2014). A petition for a writ of habeas corpus under Rule 91 is a proper means of asserting such a claim in this Court and has been used by inmates facing execution in the past. It was not until July 16, however, after his execution was scheduled to occur, that Middleton asserted his Eighth Amendment claim in this Court for the first time. After careful consideration of Middleton's petition for habeas corpus and the exhibits thereto, this Court denies that petition on the merits for the reasons set forth below.

Last week, Middleton filed a motion in this Court seeking a stay of execution and the appointment of a master to gather evidence and make findings regarding whether Middleton is competent to be executed. Though Middleton suggested he may assert an Eighth Amendment claim at some point in the future, Middleton carefully avoided doing so at that time. In support of that motion, however, Middleton offered virtually all of the same evidence on which he now relies in his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Included in his motion last week was a letter from Middleton's forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Logan.

Page 84

That letter, dated July 2, 2014, includes the following:

Over time he [Middleton] has developed certain beliefs about his charges and the resulting legal proceedings that are distorted by this paranoia, and may now be indicative of a psychotic delusional disorder. I am exploring whether these beliefs now could significantly color his perception / or relational understanding of his execution.

Plainly, this stops far short of opining that Middleton is suffering from " gross delusions preventing him from comprehending the meaning and purpose of the punishment to which he has been sentenced." Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 960, 127 S.Ct. 2842, 168 L.Ed.2d 662 (2007). See also Ford. v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986).

In his habeas petition now before the Court, Middleton offers much the same evidence that the Court considered in denying his motion for a stay of execution last week. There is one notable addition, however. Rather than continue to rely on the equivocal statements in Dr. Logan's July 2 letter, Middleton now offers a sworn statement from Dr. Logan dated July 14. In this statement, Dr. Logan lists all the information on which he bases the opinions set forth in that statement, including his single encounter with Middleton that occurred on June 16. In stating those opinions, however, Dr. Logan does not state or suggest that he did not have all of this same information when he wrote his July 2 letter, or explain why he was unable to state the opinions he now offers in that letter.

In his July 14 statement, Dr. Logan states:

With regard to his scheduled execution, while Mr. Middleton can recite the reason it was imposed, he in fact believes his conviction was the result of a conspiracy which included his associates, law enforcement, the courts, prosecutors and his defense attorneys. Furthermore, he shows little to no emotional reaction to his impending execution date but instead believes he will not die while incarcerated but will be cleared on the charges and return to the community.
In conclusion, it is my preliminary opinion (preliminary in the sense that additional materials and, critically, input from MDOC staff directly familiar with Mr. Middleton, may be available for review and consultation) that Mr. Middleton lacks a rational understanding of the reason for his execution and is therefore not competent to be executed due to a diagnosis of delusional disorder, a psychotic mental illness.

The Court concludes that this evidence -- by itself and in conjunction with the other evidence offered in support of Middleton's petition -- does not constitute the substantial threshold showing of incompetence required by Panetti and Ford before he is entitled to a full hearing to determine his competence.

First, Dr. Logan opines that Middleton is delusional because he " believes his conviction was the result of a conspiracy which included his associates, law enforcement, the courts, prosecutors and his defense attorneys." This analysis does not account for the fact that Middleton's lawyers have raised a series of claims asserting that Middleton's trial and appellate counsel were ineffective and that he is an innocent victim of over--zealous prosecutors and illicit " secret deals" between law enforcement officers and prosecution witnesses. That Middleton is now persuaded as to the legitimacy of these ...


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