Monday, May 26, 2003

Longest-serving inmate in state
mentally ill, experts say

In prison 50 years, his case now being investigated

The Associated Press

LAGRANGE, Ky. - An inmate serving in a Kentucky prison has been behind bars for 50 years, longer than all but five other inmates in the country. But some experts say Dave Embry, 69, who is mentally retarded and mentally ill, should never have been prosecuted.

Brought to trial 23 days after the 1952 murders of farmer Martin Wilson and his wife, Birdena, in Butler County, Embry was allowed to plead guilty, despite evidence legal authorities now say shows he was probably insane and should have been ruled incompetent to stand trial, the Courier-Journal reported Sunday.

A jury sentenced him to life without parole. The state's own expert witness testified in 1952 that Embry was incapable of answering questions intelligently and didn't understand the seriousness of the crime.

Both victims were shot, and Martin Wilson was nearly decapitated with an ax. Asked if Embry knew right from wrong, Dr. F.K. Foley, the superintendent of Western State Hospital, testified: "Not in the way we speak of it. He knew that was wrong, but it didn't make any difference to him if it was. If it had been an animal, it would have been the same. ... This boy does not reason at all."

Embry is now at Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange, in a wing for prisoners with psychiatric problems. He cannot read or write and has had no vocational training in prison.

The newspaper reported it learned of Embry when it asked the state Corrections Department for a list of the 10 inmates who have served the longest continuous time in Kentucky prisons. The list shows Embry has been incarcerated nearly eight years longer than the next longest-serving prisoner, and 14 years longer than the one after that.

Only Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee have inmates held longer. More than a dozen defense lawyers, former judges, ex-prosecutors and mental health experts who recently reviewed a transcript of the case for the newspaper said Embry's crime was horrible and the public needed to be protected from him.

But they concluded that he should not have been prosecuted.

"He should have been hospitalized, and he ought not to be in prison," said retired Kentucky Chief Justice John S. Palmore, a former commonwealth's attorney. Even his life without parole sentence was wrong, according to University of Kentucky law professor William Fortune and other authorities. They say there was no such sentence for murder at the time in Kentucky.

The experts said the case should be reviewed by the courts and the governor should be asked to commute his sentence.

The Division of Protection and Advocacy, a state agency charged with protecting the rights of institutionalized people, including inmates, says a staff member will interview Embry to determine what it should do on his behalf.

Embry rarely speaks, prison officials say, and he declined numerous requests to be interviewed by the newspaper. Prison officials say they don't know if he wants to be freed; nor does his family.

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