Inmate ruled mentally incompetent for execution

(AP) – An inmate set to die for the slaying of a Fort Worth restaurant manager during a botched robbery won a reprieve when a judge withdrew his Thursday execution date after ruling the convicted killer is incompetent to be executed.

Steven Kenneth Staley, 43, would have been the fifth Texas inmate to receive lethal injection this year. But Judge Wayne Salvant in Tarrant County signed an order Friday canceling the punishment, at least temporarily, after psychologists for the inmate and prosecutors determined he was incompetent.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court held the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause bars states from executing prisoners who aren’t aware of the punishment they are about to face and don’t understand why they are facing it.

Staley, of Denver, was convicted of the death of Robert Read, 35, who was fatally shot after he was taken hostage following the robbery at his Steak and Ale restaurant Oct. 14, 1989. Staley had escaped from a Denver halfway house about a month earlier.

Last March, he came within about five hours of execution before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the punishment after appeals were raised challenging the instructions given to jurors at Staley’s capital murder trial.

“It’s not one of these last-ditch efforts,” lawyer Jack Strickland said Monday. “This guy has since 1991, when he first was sent to death row, been hospitalized now 16 or 17 times for as long as nine months at a stretch because he is inevitably psychotic.

“It’s chronic and not going to get any better. They’ve attempted to deal with him through medications with very limited success.”

Legal procedures require Staley to be mentally competent “and clearly he is not,” Strickland said.

Chuck Mallon, a Tarrant County assistant district attorney, said Staley was found competent a year ago but agreed with the latest assessment. He noted Staley may have been deliberately refusing prescribed medications that treat his chronic severe psychosis and schizophrenia.

“I believe we’re going to file a motion in the near future to forcefully medicate him, not to execute him but because it’s medically appropriate,” Mallon said. “The guy definitely is mentally ill. But being mentally ill doesn’t mean the guy’s incompetent.

“Even if we could get him medicated, it would take a few weeks, but you can’t medicate somebody just to execute him. It’s got to be medically appropriate if he a danger to himself or others, and he’s certainly a danger to himself.”

If later tests show Staley to be competent, Salvant could set another execution date.

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