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Steven Staley

Texas
Mental Illness
Execution Date: The state district court judge has withdrawn the execution date for Steven Staley, finding him incompetent to be executed owing to his mental illness.

Facts of the Case

On September 18, 1989, Steven Staley escaped from a community correctional center in Denver, Colorado. Following his escape, Staley embarked upon a series of nine armed robberies as he fled through four states from Colorado to Texas. On October 14, 1989, Staley, accompanied by two friends, Tracey Duke and Brenda Rayburn, went to the Steak and Ale Restaurant in Tarrant County, Texas for dinner. After dinner, and just prior to closing, Staley and Duke removed two semi-automatic pistols from Rayburn's purse. Staley gathered the employees in the rear kitchen storeroom while Duke secured the front of the restaurant. While this was happening, an assistant manager escaped through a rear door and called the police.

Once all the staff was gathered in the storeroom, Staley demanded that the restaurant's manager identify himself. Robert Read stepped forward. Read was then ordered by Staley to open the cash registers and the safe. Staley also forced the other employees to get down on the floor and throw out their wallets and purses. One person attempted to stand up, prompting Staley to kick him in the chest and threaten to "blow away" the "next person that puts their head up".

While this was transpiring, the police, having been alerted by the assistant manager, arrived at the restaurant. Staley, believing that Read had activated a silent alarm, threatened to kill Read if he discovered that the police were outside. Read responded by assuring Staley that the restaurant had no such alarms. He volunteered to serve as a hostage if Staley promised not to hurt the other employees. Staley agreed to Read's proposal and left the restaurant with Read, Duke and Rayburn, using Read as a human shield. They then hijacked a car and Staley pushed Read into the back seat with him. Police officers subsequently reported hearing several gunshots before the car pulled off and while the car was accelerating away. A high-speed chase ensued, ultimately ending when the stolen car broke down. Staley, Duke and Rayburn then attempted to flee the scene but were apprehended by the police. The police found Read dead in the back of the car. According to the medical examiner, Read had been shot in the head at point blank range. The evidence indicated that both Staley and Duke had shot Read.

On April 8, 1991 Steven Staley was found guilty of capital murder. He was subsequently sentenced to death on April 25, 1991. Prior to his conviction, Staley had given a written statement implicating himself in the shooting. Tracey Duke was sentenced to three life sentences in Texas and an additional 30 year sentence in Colorado for murder and armed robbery. Brenda Rayburn, as part of a plea bargain, was sentenced to 30 years.

Prior Criminal History

Staley was previously implicated in the death of James Davis, a fellow inmate at the Denver correctional center from which Staley escaped on September 18, 1989. Davis disappeared from the correctional center two days after Staley escaped. Davis's body was found about a month later, with a fatal gunshot wound to the head and another gunshot wound to the back. Staley acknowledged helping Tracey Duke kill Davis, but named Duke as the gunman.

Questions of Competency

With regard to his competency to be executed, Staley was examined by two experts, including Dr. Mark D. Cunningham, a clinical and forensic psychologist who submitted an affidavit on behalf of the defense. In his affidavit, Dr. Cunningham stated that although he found Staley to be coherent and generally orientated and aware of his impending execution (originally set for March 23rd), Staley's unmedicated status, the psychotic symptoms he exhibited, and his "apparent growing psychotic decompensation" made "probable that he will become markedly more psychotic" between the time of evaluation (March 16, 2005) and his execution. As a corollary of this, Dr. Cunningham asserted that, as Staley's "psychosis increases in severity, it may well diminish or negate his understanding" of his death sentence or the execution. He concluded that there was "no assurance that the awareness he displayed regarding his execution [during the examination] will be present at the time of his execution".

Mental Illness

Staley suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. People diagnosed with such mental disorders frequently have a close biological relative with similar mental illnesses. In Staley's case, his mother had a long history of mental illness. She was hospitalised in a psychiatric hospital on numerous occasions and treated with psychiatric medications and electroconvulsive therapy. Her records document an "acute schizophrenic episode".

From an early age, Staley was exposed to violent and erratic behaviour. His mother attempted to pound a wooden stake through his chest at the age of six or seven and, at a later date, attempted to stab both Staley and his sister with a butcher's knife. On each occasion she was committed to mental health institutions. Staley's father was a severe alcoholic and was killed in a road traffic accident in 1985. His maternal grandfather also committed suicide. Staley, himself, subsequently attempted suicide when he was 16 or 17 and was later placed on suicide precautions during his incarceration.

Following his incarceration, Staley was hospitalized on numerous occasions for psychiatric care. The first instance occurred on June 17, 1994 and lasted for 3 months until his discharge on September 17, 1994. Immediately following this however, Staley was found unresponsive in his cell and subsequently re-admitted on September 21, 1994 for six weeks. He was forcibly medicated despite his refusals. Staley was then diagnosed with major depression with delusional features and schizoid personality disorder with anti-social features.

Staley subsequently refused to co-operate with medical treatment, attend doctor's appointments or attend clinics. This culminated in a nurse being called to his cell to treat a seizure. Staley was then re-hospitalised, during which time he reported feelings of paralysis and audio hallucinations with voices torturing him. Again, he was released and then re-hospitalised, this time, however Staley was catatonic. Subsequent psychiatric evaluations "suggested a psychotic valley which is typical of schizophrenia, paranoid type". Hallucinations, delusions and extreme suspiciousness were noted. He was then discharged.

Staley's behaviour subsequently deteriorated and he exhibited psychotic, bizarre and on occasions, hostile behaviour. He also reported hallucinations, paralysis and exhibited delusional thinking. Staley was hospitalised ten times in total and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and anti-social personality type. During this period, Staley also suffered from depression and was placed on suicide precautions. Staley was most recently hospitalised for approximately 19 months from November 28, 2002 to June 17, 2004.

The diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia made during his incarceration is further supported by an examination by Dr. Cunningham. Dr. Cunningham also concluded that Staley suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is psychotic. In his March 17, 2005 affidavit, Dr. Cunningham reports that Staley's "speech is characterised by robot-like tone, odd syntax, neologisms (personally created words), alliterations, pseudo-intellectualism, excessive detail, and repetitive phrasing". Staley also reported "grandiose and paranoid delusional beliefs" believing himself to be on a part-time "security mission to save the world from war" with security clearance. Staley further believed that Texas was out to kill him, either by lethal injection or, "if found innocent possibly by shooting in the outside world, stabbing or poisoning by fellow inmates in prison and general mischievousness". Staley also claimed to have invented the first car, sold the blueprints to a character from Star Trek and to have been recruited as an undercover police officer at the age of thirteen.