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Angel Maturino Resendiz

Mental Illness
Texas
Mexican National

Executed June 27, 2006

Angel Maturino Resendiz is a Mexican national. Resendiz was arrested, charged and sentenced to death for the 1998 murder and rape of Dr. Claudia Benton of West University. There is evidence to suggest that Resendiz is severely mentally ill. Since Resendiz has been on death row, his condition has deteriorated significantly. In the nearly seven years since his death sentence was imposed, he has been transferred to an inpatient psychiatric unit on eight different occasions. He has mutilated himself at least thirty-three times, cutting his face, chin, arm, head, legs, feet, neck and stomach with a razor blade. He has been placed on anti-psychotic medication to control his auditory hallucinations and delusions.

The scheduled execution of Angel Maturino Resendiz has been postponed to allow further psychiatric testing. Resendiz was scheduled to be executed on May 10, 2006. The execution has been rescheduled for June 27, 2006.

Facts of the Case

Angel Maturino Resendiz was arrested, charged and sentenced to death for the 1998 murder and rape of Dr. Claudia Benton of West University. Mr. Resendiz was linked to 14 murders in Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Illinois. He claims to have killed more people, in fact, he is suspected of killing at least five other people in Texas and six people in other States from the Southwest to the Midwest. Most of the victims lived near railroad tracks and investigators said Resendiz jumped onto trains and rode them from place to place often robbing and then killing his victims. On May 18, 2000, Mr. Maturino Resendiz was convicted of murder and on May 22, 2000, the trial court sentenced him to death.

A lawyer representing the Mexican government was in the court room when the execution date was set. Mexico opposes the death penalty for Resendiz.

Mental Illness

According to general information on the case, as a young boy Resendiz was small and physically fragile, and was frequently victimized. His mother – herself a victim of physically abusive parents and spouses – beat him regularly. At the age of eight or nine, Resendiz was raped by a man who had also raped two other boys in the community, and was sexually assaulted by his uncle. At the age of eleven, he was attacked by a gang of students who beat him on the head with a brick, leaving him unconscious and bleeding from the nose and ears.

Resendiz ran away from home when he was eleven years old. Living on the streets, he was repeatedly sexually victimized, and began to sniff glue. He travelled to the United States in his adolescence to work as a migrant farm-worker. As a juvenile, he was frequently incarcerated for a variety of offences, including burglary and possession of fraudulent documentation. During his time in juvenile detention facilities, he was sexually assaulted by older inmates. He attempted to cut his wrists. Then, at the age of nineteen, he began to show signs of what would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia.

He began reading the Bible obsessively out of fear that he was “being attacked in some way.” He believed that the Book of Revelations “was speaking right to me, like I was the son of an evil creature.” He began to believe that he had a special relationship with God that others didn’t have. Later, he began to feel as if he had special powers, which included the ability to sense evil, the ability to influence world events with his thoughts, and the duty to punish evil people for “their sins against God.”

At the time of his arraignment on capital murder charges in July 1999, the State prosecution voiced its doubts about Resendiz’s mental state when it asked for a psychiatric examination for competency and for sanity. The court ordered a psychological examination, but no competency evaluation ever took place prior to trial.

The State and the defence retained various experts who examined Mr. Resendiz, but those experts reported only on his sanity at the time of the crime, not on his competency to stand trial or his ability to assist counsel. At trial, the defendant’s court-appointed lawyers argued that he was insane at the time of the murder. The State’s experts conceded that he was mentally ill, but argued that he did not meet the legal definition of insanity at the time of the crime.

During the trial, all of the testifying mental health experts – including the State’s own witnesses – recognized that Resendiz suffered from a mental illness, was sincere about his irrational belief system and was not fabricating his symptoms. The first prosecution witness against Mr. Resendiz was his treating physician at the Harris County jail. She had met with him forty-five times during his incarceration, and her assistant met with Mr. Resendiz at least thirty times. She recognized that much of Mr. Resendiz’s thought content was “similar to a paranoid schizophrenic” and diagnosed him as suffering from “schizotypal personality disorder” and “major depression with psychotic features.” The doctor also admitted that she had prescribed antipsychotic medication for Mr. Resendiz to treat the symptoms of his mental illness.

The State’s other mental health expert, Dr. Ramon Laval, agreed that Mr. Resendiz was not feigning mental illness during his examination, and noted that Mr. Resendiz had spoken of his “gift of prophecy.” According to Dr. Laval, Mr. Resendiz’s neuropsychological testing and electroencephalogram (EEG) results were abnormal and were consistent with frontal lobe brain damage. According to Dr. Laval, testing also showed “the presence of schizotypal tendencies” that “may become psychotic” under conditions of sufficient stress.

Dr. Cohen, a defence psychiatrist who performed a forensic evaluation of Mr. Resendiz, diagnosed him as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Dr. Cohen’s evaluation was based on a number of sources, including interviews with the Resendiz, his family, and his prison records and letters. The evaluation also included a review of Mr. Resendiz’s neuropsychological testing. Dr. Cohen reported:

It is my opinion, held to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that [Mr. Maturino Resendiz] does have a mental illness, specifically Chronic Paranoid Schizophrenia. He also has a distant history of heavy polysubstance abuse…and closed head injury. Both of these factors may have played a contributory role in his having later developed a psychotic illness.

The jury rejected the insanity defence and convicted Mr. Resendiz of first degree murder.

In 2001, the trial court ordered doctors to evaluate Mr. Resendiz in order to determine whether he was competent to drop his appeals. One of the experts appointed by the court noted that the Petitioner was “seen on a consistent basis by mental health professionals” while on death row and that his custodial records show “episodic self-mutilation.” A defence expert, Dr. Mitchell Young, determined that Mr. Resendiz was suffering from, “Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type” and also had a history of “traumatic head injury with loss of consciousness and seizure” as well as “exposure to pesticides” and “frontal lobe dysfunction.”

Dr. Young found that Mr. Resendiz’s mental illness “prevent[s] him from making a rational choice among his options. Mr. Resendiz articulates both rational and irrational reasons for wanting to hasten his death. . . .I suspect Mr. Resendiz’s anxiety is mounting with ongoing confinement while awaiting execution, and he is less well able to contain his delusional thinking.”

Nonetheless, the court found him competent to make decisions regarding his appeals.

During his pre-trial detention and subsequent incarceration on death row, Mr. Resendiz’s mental illness was periodically treated with anti-psychotic medication. Medication has helped to control many of his psychotic episodes. When un-medicated, however, Mr. Resendiz is overcome with delusional beliefs and the desire to hurt himself. For example, Mr. Resendiz was not prescribed medication for a two-year period while he was on death row. During this time, he “engaged in at least 28 separate incidents of self-mutilation.”

Prison records show that during these episodes Mr. Resendiz was banging his head on cell door and walls until it bled, biting his lip or internal cheeks, scratching off tattoos, peeling scabs from his arms, rubbing raw the skin on his wrists, slicing his left arm with a razor blade, cutting his face, chin, arm, head, legs, feet, neck and penis with a razor blade, pulling out his toenails, gashing open a 20cm x ½cm hole in his lower abdomen and re-opening each of these wounds numerous times. But when Mr. Resendiz was consistently treated with antipsychotic medication, “his self-mutilation has been much less frequent, and much less severe.”

Dr. Pablo Stewart, a bilingual psychiatrist, evaluated Mr. Resendiz on February 6, 2006 and March 27, 2006. Dr. Stewart reported that by March 27, 2006, “delusions had completely taken over [Mr. Maturino Resendiz’s] thought processes.”

According to Dr. Stewart:

Mr. Maturino Resendiz is aware that the government will place a needle in his arm, but he does not understand that he will be executed because he is convinced that he will not die. He believes that he will only go to sleep for three days. This is not a metaphor for death, but rather he said he will rest and awake refreshed. He is convinced that he will awaken with a “renovated” body to continue to do God’s work. He said that as a “man-Angel” he cannot die like other men.

Based on his evaluations of Mr. Maturino Resendiz, Dr. Stewart concluded that he is currently incompetent to be executed.