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Ohio Set To Execute Severely Mentally Ill Inmate Next Week

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"Ohio Set To Execute Severely Mentally Ill Inmate Next Week"

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Abdul Awkal with his attorney David Singleton

On June 6, Ohio is scheduled to execute Abdul Awkal for the murder of his estranged wife and brother-in-law unless Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) grants a pending clemency petition, or a court steps in with a last minute order. Here are the facts about the mental health of the man set to be executed next Wednesday:

  • Survived a Civil War: In 1975, when Abdul was sixteen years old, a civil war erupted in his home country of Lebanon. Abdul lived through this war for eight years before he was able to escape to Michigan to live with family members. Although Abdul never sought treatment during his first months in the United States and thus was not diagnosed with a mental illness until sometime later, he said that he spent his first four months in America sitting on his brother’s couch — behavior an Ohio clemency board said was “as if he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
  • History of Mental Breakdowns: Abdul eventually found work as a gas station attendant. About a year after he arrived in the United States, however, he was wrongfully accused of stealing from his employer. According to the Ohio Supreme Court, he then suffered a mental breakdown. Abdul “became hysterical, cursing and breaking things, vomited and then collapsed.” He was taken to a Detroit hospital in a straitjacket and later released with instructions (that he disregarded) to seek psychiatric treatment. Some time later, Abdul suffered at least one more mental breakdown as his marriage to the woman he eventually killed became increasingly dysfunctional. A mental hospital again told him to seek psychiatric care, but he did not follow up because he says he could not afford treatment.
  • Suicidal Depression: In November of 1991, about two months before he would kill his estranged wife and brother-in-law, Abdul finally did attend four counseling sessions because he was depressed and had thoughts of suicide.
  • Hallucinations: On January 7, 1992, Abdul shot his wife and brother-in-law during a meeting related to Abdul’s pending divorce. While awaiting trial in an Ohio jail, he began having hallucinations. Abdul says he saw his wife speak to him and tell him to “join her.”
  • Incompetent to Stand Trial: Abdul’s trial was delayed after a court found him mentally incompetent to assist in his defense. During the period between his arrest and his trial, county psychiatrists experimented with various anti-depressant, anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety drugs in an attempt to control his hallucinations and enable him to participate in the trial, and a judge eventually deemed him competent to state trial in September of 1992. During the pre-trial period, the prosecution also offered him a plea bargain, which he rejected, that would have taken the death penalty off the table. It’s not clear what Abdul’s mental state was when he rejected this deal.
  • Second Finding of Mental Incompetency: In 2004, Abdul wrote a federal judge asking that his appeals be terminated and that he be executed swiftly. The judge responded by ordering a psychiatric evaluation. Twelve years after his arrest, Abdul was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, depressed type and determined to be mentally incompetent to waive his appeals.
  • Letters to the CIA: In 2001, Abdul started writing letters to then-CIA Directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, along with former CBS new anchor Dan Rather and, eventually, President Obama offering advice on how to fight terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one letter to Obama, for example, Abdul advises that rather than dismantling or safely detonating the Taliban’s explosive devices, U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan should “replace the electronic receiver inside the IEDs with ours and keep them buried.” Abdul also told a clemency board that he advises the CIA on “Islamic religion and culture” and that he is upset that the CIA did not listen to him after he warned them about 9/11. At other points, he’s claimed he is being executed because the “CIA wanted him dead.”
  • As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart recognized almost four decades ago, the “most irrevocable of sanctions should be reserved for a small number of extreme cases.” This is why the Constitution forbids executions of juvenile offenders or the mentally retarded. And it is why the death penalty is reserved to only a handful of the most severe crimes. Indeed, American juries consider death such an extreme sanction that only 2 percent of convicted murderers are sentenced to die.

    There’s no question that Abdul committed a terrible crime more than twenty years ago, and he has spent every subsequent minute of his life in state custody because of his actions. That will not change if Gov. Kasich grants Abdul clemency, or if the Supreme Court recognizes that people with severe mental illnesses do not belong on death row.

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