Ohio Court Says Executing Severely Mentally Ill Man Is Unconstitutional

Abdul Awkal with his attorney David Singleton

As ThinkProgress previously reported, Abdul Awkal is a severely mentally ill Ohio inmate who believes that he advises the CIA and President Obama on anti-terrorism policy and that he is set to be executed because the “CIA wanted him dead.” Although Awkal was originally scheduled to be executed on June 6, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) granted him a two week reprieve earlier this month so that state courts would have sufficient time to determine whether Awkal could not constitutionally be put to death due to his mental incapacity. On Friday, that court held that executing Awkal would indeed be unconstitutional:

All the experts who testified agree that Abdul Awkal suffers from a severe mental illness: schizoaffective disorder, depressive type–a form of psychosis. This diagnosis was supported by the defendant’s repeated statements, made in various contexts and over more than a decade, claiming that he had provided information to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the White House, and the presidential campaign of John Kerry and John Edwards, offering advice as to the conduct of the fight against Osama bin Laden and Al-Quaeda and the prosecution of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that he would receive coded replies via news articles in U.S.A. Today and other media sources. All the experts further noted a depressive component to that diagnosis. . . .

Based upon an exhaustive review of all the evidence before it, including the evaluations of five acknowledged expert mental-health professionals, the Court is forced to conclude that, as a result of severe and persistent mental disease (schizoaffective disorder, depressive type), Abdul Awkal presently lacks the capacity to form a rational understanding as to the reason the state intends to execute him on June 20, 2012. Accordingly, . . . Abdul Awkal may not be executed unless and until he has been restored to competency.

Despite this order, Awkal could still be killed should he eventually become more lucid. Indeed, the order suggests that he could possibly be “subjected to forced medication for the purpose of restoring him to competency to be executed.” Moreover, it concludes that Awkal’s execution will not be stayed until after the state supreme court signs off on a stay — although the state is not opposing Awkal’s request for the state supremes to do so.

There’s no good reason why Awkal should be thrust into this kind of limbo. The Constitution forbids executions of juvenile offenders and the mentally retarded because diminished mental capacity makes it harder for an offender “to understand and process information, to learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, or to control impulses—that also make it less likely that they can process the information of the possibility of execution as a penalty and, as a result, control their conduct based upon that information.” The same rationale should also apply to people like Abdul Awkal.