Friday, June 20, 2008

State fought to execute mentally disabled killer

By Paul Blake

On Friday, June 20 the state of South Carolina executed a mentally handicapped inmate. The governor's office refused to comment on the inmate's mental condition.

"You can call the Department of Corrections and they can fill you in," spokesman Joel Sawyer told City Paper when asked whether the governor was aware the man scheduled for execution, James Earl Reed, had an IQ of 76. The IQ range considered borderline or mildly mentally retarded is between the 70-79 range. The state allowed Reed to represent himself in court despite his mental condition.

Fielding Pringle, a Columbia-based attorney, filed a last minute appeal on the day of the execution based on a Supreme Court decision a day earlier. Indiana v. Edwards held that a defendant could simultaneously be competent enough to stand trial but not competent to defend oneself. Pringle argued that the courts should not have allowed Reed to represent himself based on his mental condition.

The courts decision to find Reed competent to defend himself during trial raised issues of whether his Fifth Amendment rights were violated in regards to due process. In 1996, a jury found Reed guilty of murdering his girlfriends' parents Joseph and Barbara Lafayette. Reed also provided a confession to police which he later recanted.

On the evening of the scheduled execution U.S. District Court Judge Henry Floyd granted a stay based on Pringle's appeal, but S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster's office immediately fought the decision, getting it over turned in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Only a few protesters turned out, including Salvador Macias, a Sumter resident who says he tries to attend and protest all executions in South Carolina.

At 9:20 p.m. the rain poured down and the electricity in the press room flickered.

Though the lights came right back on, the press was still in the dark on the status of the execution. WIS TV wanted to know whether it was on or off for their evening news segment and the Charleston Post and Courier had two versions of the story ready to go, depending on whether Reed lived or died. One reporter for the Associated Press was on the phone with her husband, seemingly annoyed her weekend trip had been postponed.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. attorneys on the defendants behalf filed another motion but the Chief Justice ultimately denied the request .

Spokesman for the Department of Corrections, Josh Gelinas, was unable to fill us in on the state's position on executing the mentally disabled nor would he discuss his personal feelings on the matter.

"I'm a flack for an agency," Gelinas said, scolding this reporter in the parking lot for asking his personal feelings during a press conference. Gelinas maintained he only speaks for the S.C. Department of Corrections. At approximately 11:20 p.m. the State of South Carolina officially demonstrated its position when Reed was hit with a fatal jolt of over 2,000 volts of electricity for four minutes. He was pronounced dead at 11:27 p.m.

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