Thursday, May 17, 2001

Scott's mental health a concern

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS - Condemned killer Jay D. Scott was in a Lucasville Prison infirmary cell Wednesday, after Ohio's second failed attempt to execute him.

        As prison psychologists kept Mr. Scott under watch, his legal team and state officials were waiting to hear from a federal appeals court that could either reopen his insanity appeal or give the state a third try at executing him. The court offered no answers Wednesday and is under no obligation to do so today.

        “We're all sitting here wondering what's next,” said Chris Frey, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor. “What's certain is, we're not going to execute him today.”

        One judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit requested a stay of execution Tuesday night to see if at least six of the court's 11 active judges would reopen the case. The stay was granted just 10 minutes before Mr. Scott was to die by lethal injection.

        The judge did not step forward publicly and court officials declined to identify him.

        On track to become the first Ohioan executed against his will since 1963, Mr. Scott has brushed close to death twice. He came within an hour of execution April 17 before prison officials were told of a stay from the Ohio Supreme Court.

        Two mental health experts said the near-death experience is so stressful it can be compared to abuse, even torture.

        “It could be classified in the range of torture,” said Phillip Resnick, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western University in Cleveland. “In Vietnam they held mock executions in order to get (prisoners of war) to talk.”

        Mr. Resnick was an expert witness for the state in the case of Wilford Berry, a death row inmate who volunteered for his 1999 execution. His testimony helped convince the courts Mr. Berry was competent to make that decision.

        Monique Coleman, a forensic psychologist in Columbus, said the experience also must be stressful for Mr. Scott's family.

        “I'm sure the family is experiencing a significant amount of turmoil, exhaustion and confusion,” Ms. Coleman said. “They're sort of left in limbo.”

        Ms. Coleman and Mr. Resnick said the two brushes with death could worsen Mr. Scott's schizophrenia, which is now the central issue governing whether he lives or dies.

        Mr. Scott's attorneys hope to convince the 6th Circuit that it's cruel and unusual punishment to execute the mentally ill. They also want the court to reject the state's legal standard for competency, which says a person must understand he will die as punishment for crimes he committed.

        Three Ohio courts, including the state supreme court, have rejected that appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court and a federal district court refused to consider linked appeals Monday.

        “There will be mental health employees speaking to him throughout the day, just to see how he's doing,” prison spokesman Joe Andrews said. “This has to play pretty hard on him.”


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