Defendant's Mental Illness Does Not Place Him in the Same Protected Category, Preventing Execution, as a Mentally Retarded Defendant
In Matheney v. State, 833 N.E.2d 454 (Ind. 2005), the Indiana Supreme Court found that the death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment under the Indiana Constitution and that the U.S. Supreme Court had never included mentally ill murder defendants in the same protected category as mentally retarded murder defendants.
Facts of the Case
In March 1989, Alan Matheney, an inmate at an Indiana prison, was given an eight‐hour pass to go to Indianapolis. Instead, Mr. Matheney went to St. Joseph's County where his ex‐wife, Lisa Bianco, lived. He went to a friend's house and took an unloaded shotgun. He drove to the home of his ex‐wife, parking a short distance from the house. Mr. Matheney broke into Ms. Bianco's house. When Ms. Bianco ran from the house, Mr. Matheney chased her. He caught up with her and beat her to death with the unloaded shotgun. Later that afternoon, Mr. Matheney turned himself into the police.
Mr. Matheney was seen by various mental health professionals. There was no expert testimony that Mr. Matheney was legally insane at the time he killed Ms. Bianco. One expert testified that Mr. Matheney had a paranoid personality disorder and another expert testified that he had a schizophreniform disorder. There was evidence that Mr. Matheney believed that his ex‐wife, the prosecutor, and others were part of an organized systematic conspiracy designed to persecute him and keep him in prison. At his trial, there were witnesses who testified that Mr. Matheney displayed odd behavior, and one psychiatrist testified that Mr. Matheney was showing signs of decompensation in prison before his eight‐hour pass.
The jury did not find that Mr. Matheney was insane at the time of the crime and did not find Mr. Matheney guilty but mentally ill. The jury also found that the aggravating circumstances—intentional murder during a burglary and murder committed by lying in wait—outweighed the mitigating circumstances, including Mr. Matheney's mental disorders. The jury unanimously recommended the death sentence, and the court sentenced Mr. Matheney to death.
The conviction and sentences were affirmed at each stage of subsequent review. Mr. Matheney then filed a Tender of Successive Petition for Post‐Conviction Relief. He had two specific claims. One, the death sentence for a person who is mentally ill when committing a murder violated article I, section 16, of the Indiana Constitution, which states, in part, “cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflicted” and “all penalties shall be proportional to the nature of the offense.” Two, the death sentence for mentally ill persons violates the right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. He claimed that he should be exempt from the death penalty because he was mentally ill when he committed the murder. Citing Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), he asserted that there was no rational basis for persons with serious mental illness to be treated differently from mentally retarded persons.
On August 29, 2005, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Matheney had not met his burden of establishing a reasonable possibility that he was entitled to postconviction relief. The court noted that Mr. Matheney had already received extensive judicial review of his death sentence and declined to authorize a filing of a successive petition for postconviction relief. By separate order, Mr. Matheney's execution was set for September 28, 2005.
Although Mr. Matheney argued that the death sentence for a seriously mentally ill person violated the Indiana Constitution, the court described Indiana's death penalty scheme that takes into account a person's mental health.
The court noted that on five separate occasions, Mr. Matheney's mental illness was considered. At the guilt phase of the trial, the jury could have found Mr. Matheney not guilty by reason of insanity or guilty but mentally ill. At the penalty phase, the jury had the option of finding that mitigating circumstances, such as Mr. Matheney's mental health, outweighed the aggravating circumstances. The sentencing court considered Mr. Matheney's mental health. The court had previously considered evidence regarding his mental health on direct appeal. It also considered mental health evidence at the first postconviction appeal: “We noted the evidence that Matheney suffered from a mental disease, which caused him to view life through a distorted and deluded version of reality, but found little evidence tending to show that his mental status left him no choice but to kill Bianco. . .” (833 N.E.2d at 457).
The court rejected the claim that a death sentence for a person who is mentally ill is unconstitutional, per se. The Indiana Supreme Court noted that Mr. Matheney was intelligent and manipulative. The court viewed his preparation, the way he approached the house, and the killing of Ms. Bianco as an indication that Mr. Matheney was not extremely mentally or emotionally disturbed at the time of the murder. The court noted his mental disease.
In response to Mr. Matheney's second claim, that the death penalty for mentally ill persons violates their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection, the court stated that it was unconvinced that Mr. Matheney had a reasonable possibility of prevailing under the Atkins rationale. In Atkins, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the execution of mentally retarded individuals was unconstitutional because of the Eight Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The court noted that the limitations of mentally retarded individuals makes them less culpable and that even many of those states that permit capital punishment prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded. The U.S. Supreme Court has held execution as an unconstitutional punishment for juveniles (Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551(2005)), for the mentally retarded (Atkins), and for those who are not competent to be executed (Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986)). The Indiana Supreme Court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has not held that mentally ill persons are not subject to the death penalty.
In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), ruled that the then‐existing death penalty laws led to the arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty, violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment. This created a brief hiatus during which the death penalty could not be imposed. The hiatus ended in 1976 when, in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the death penalty did not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments under all circumstances and upheld the constitutionality of Georgia's death penalty. The Georgia statue assured several protections to prevent the arbitrary and capricious application of the death penalty.
Since Gregg, the U.S. Supreme Court has provided some constitutional protection for those who are mentally impaired. In Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the mentally impaired person's competence to be executed. Alvin Ford was convicted in 1974 of the murder of a police officer and sentenced to death. While on death row, Ford developed a paranoid psychotic disorder.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of an insane prisoner and that Ford had the right to a judicial hearing to determine his competence to be executed.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), that mental retardation did not automatically preclude a death sentence, though it could be a mitigating factor. In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), “applying the Eight Amendment in the light of our ′evolving standards of decency,' ” the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of mentally retarded individuals is “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The Court found no reason to disagree with the legislatures that have debated the issue and have overwhelmingly prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded. The Court was not persuaded that execution of the mentally retarded would further the deterrent or retributive purpose of the death penalty.
In Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid imposition of the death penalty on criminals who committed their offenses when they were under 18 years of age. The Court identified a national and international consensus rejecting the juvenile death penalty and reasoned that juveniles' susceptibility to immature and irresponsible conduct results in diminished culpability that requires a sentence less severe than death.
The death penalty continues to remain an area under intense scrutiny. At this time, unlike the mentally retarded offender and the juvenile offender, the mentally ill offender is not categorically excluded from being sentenced to death. One wonders what the outcome will be when the U.S. Supreme Court confronts this issue in the future.
- American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law