Monday, November 9, 2009

Evidence Not Heard

This Reuters piece about efforts to stop the execution of John Muhammad includes a mention of MVFHR and a link to the clemency request, which includes a 4-minute oral testimony from MVFHR about victim opposition to the death penalty for people with severe mental illness. (To hear the testimony, click the link above and then click on "announcements.")

John Muhammad Files for Stay of Execution with U.S. Supreme Court
Evidence of "Severe Mental Illness" Not Heard by Jury

In a two-track effort to stop the November 10 execution of John Allen Muhammad, sentenced to death after his conviction for 10 killings 7 years ago, Attorney Jon Sheldon has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court and a motion for a stay of execution so that the court can review compelling evidence of Muhammad`s "severe mental illness"

Sheldon also requested that Governor Tim Kaine use his powers of clemency to commute Muhammad`s sentence to life without parole because of the severe mental illness. "The public has been protected from John Muhammad for the past 7 years," said Sheldon, "and a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole would insure that the public would continue to be protected."

"Execution is simply not justified in this case," Sheldon said, "and it is because of John Muhammad`s severe mental illness." Sheldon also stated that "the jurors would not have sentenced him to death if they had received clear instructions and known of his severe mental illness." Life in prison without the possibility of parole has and will keep the people of Virginia safe.

Sheldon said that a psychiatrist has diagnosed Muhammad as "psychotic, delusional and paranoid and that he suffers from schizophrenia."

"This diagnosis" said Sheldon, "is confirmed by objective evidence." Sheldon said that neuropsychological brain imaging applications have demonstrated that John Muhammad has neuropsychological deficits that are consistent with schizophrenia, and point to "brain dysfunction."

Sheldon also said that MRI brain scans of John Muhammad show that "he has three congenital malformations in his brain, two of which are found with greater frequency in people with schizophrenia, and one of which is a shrunken cortex, confirming the brain damage."

Psychiatrist Richard Dudley reviewed all the mental health information and concluded that John Muhammad certainly has a "severe mental illness" of the type that the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Murder Victims` Families for Human Rights have described when they advocate against the execution of the severely mentally ill. Dr. Dudley noted that John Muhammad`s mental illness certainly played a role both in his crimes, and his behavior at trial.

"Elizabeth Young, a juror in the Muhammad case, has described how the evidence of John Muhammad's severe mental illness was never heard by her jury, and that this evidence with clear jury instructions would have led her to vote for a verdict of life in prison without the possibility of parole," Sheldon said.

For more information about the certiorari petition and the clemency request, please visit and click on "Announcements."

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