Imdad Ali is a 50-year-old Pakistani man who was convicted of the 2002 murder of a religious scholar. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2012, which under Pakistani law would normally render him ineligible for the death penalty.
Last week, though, the Pakistani Supreme Court found a creative justification for going ahead and hanging him anyway, the reports:
In 2012, the 50-year-old was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis that doctors said impaired Mr Ali’s “rational thinking and decision-making capabilities”, and was declared clinically insane in a medical report the following year.
But he lost his final appeal last year and has since had his execution stayed by a last-minute appeal lodged by his wife at the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, judges ruled that the execution can go ahead, after finding that Mr Ali’s schizophrenia is not a permanent condition and varies according to the “level of stress”.
Ali could now be executed as early as this week, and naturally the Supreme Court’s decision has caused an uproar. “It is terrifying to think that a mentally ill man like Imdad Ali could now hang because judges are pretending that schizophrenia is not a serious condition,” Maya Foa, the director of the human rights group Reprieve, told the Independent.
It would be a mistake to attribute this to some barbaric tendency unique to the Pakistani justice system, though. In the U.S., the courts have held that it is unconstitutional to execute convicts who don’t meet a certain threshold of mental competence, but the justice system often doesn’t let that get in the way of carrying out executions of seriously disturbed people.
The Death Penalty Information Center has a long, depressing list of executions which took place in the U.S. despite serious concerns about the mental health of the condemned. To take just a few such examples (emphasis in the originals):
Cecil Clayton was executed on March 17, 2015, in Missouri. He was 74, suffered from dementia, had an IQ of 71, was missing a significant part of his brain due to an accident. His attorneys insisted he should be spared because he did not understand the punishment to be carried out. Clayton sustained a brain injury in a sawmill accident in 1972, requiring removal of about 20% of his frontal lobe, which is involved in impulse control, problem solving, and social behavior. After the accident, Clayton began experiencing violent impulses, schizophrenia, and extreme paranoia, which became so severe that he checked himself into a mental hospital out of fear he could not control his temper. In 1983, Dr. Douglas Stevens, a psychiatrist, examined Clayton and concluded, “There is presently no way that this man could be expected to function in the world of work. Were he pushed to do so he would become a danger both to himself and to others. He has had both suicidal and homicidal impulses, so far controlled, though under pressure they would be expected to exacerbate.” In the past decade, six psychiatric evaluations have found that Clayton should be exempt from execution because he does not understand that he will be executed, or the reasons for his execution. However, since his execution date was set, he did not have a competency hearing before a judge that could spare him from execution.
Garry Allen was executed in Oklahoma on November 6, 2012. This was the third date set for him this year. Allen’s execution has been stayed repeatedly due to questions about his mental competence. He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia as well as dementia caused by seizures, drug abuse, and a gunshot wound to his head sustained during his arrest. In 2008, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended that his death sentence be commuted by a 4-1 vote. Governor Mary Fallin granted a stay in order to consider the Board’s recommendation, but denied clemency. Allen murdered his wife 26 years ago, after she had left him and taken their two children.
Charles Singleton was executed on January 6, 2004 in Arkansas. Singleton stopped taking medication in 1997 and became psychotic, believing that his victim was still alive and that his jail cell was inhabited by demons. He was then forcibly medicated, prompting a series of appeals that culminated with an 8th Circuit Court ruling that he could be forced to take drugs that made him sane enough to be executed.
James Willie Brown was executed in Georgia on November 4, 2003. Mr. Brown’s schizophrenia cause him to experience hallucinations and believe that voices of God and demons directed his actions. He was admitted to Central State Hospital several times, beginning in 1968. After being arrested in 1975 for the murder of Brenda Watson, Brown was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, and was treated for 5 years before being ruled competent to stand trial.
Humans have a deep, primal need to punish wrongdoers, and this need can override our more recently evolved senses of justice and mercy.