Missouri set to execute intellectually-disabled inmate

by Stephanie Yeagle

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Cecil Clayton, the oldest inmate on Missouri's death row, is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Tuesday by lethal injection, according to the Associated Press.

Clayton, 74, was convicted in the 1996 shooting death of a sheriff's deputy. His attorneys are asking the U.S. Supreme Court and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to spare his life, arguing that Clayton has dementia and brain damage from a 1972 sawmill accident.

According to The Guardian, Clayton was working in a lumberyard when a piece of a log broke off in the sawmill and struck him in the head. "It pierced his skull, sending shards of bone deep into his brain, and in the process of saving his life surgeons were forced to remove a fifth of his frontal lobe – a vital area that controls judgment, inhibition and impulsive behavior," The Guardian reported.

Clayton was convicted of killing Christopher Castetter, who was investigating a suspicious vehicle near Cassville, Mo., on the night before Thanksgiving 1996, when he was shot in the forehead. His vehicle was found against a tree with the engine running. Castetter died at a hospital the next day.

The Guardian reported: 

The evidence of Clayton’s mental impairments – and hence his constitutional right to protection – is considerable, dating back many years. In addition to that image of his brain scan, psychological evaluations stretching back to 1978 have chronicled the after-effects of his severe brain trauma.

Three forensic psychologists have spent time with Clayton in multiple visits spanning 2005 to this year, and have unanimously and consistently concluded that he is entitled to constitutional protections because of his mental incompetence. One of the psychologists, Daniel Foster, has written: “He is not simply incompetent legally, he would be unable to care for himself or manage basic self care, were he not in a structured environment that takes care of him … he still does not comprehend, appreciate nor understand its approaching date for him”.He has the reading ability of a nine-year-old, has visual and auditory hallucinations in which he is convinced that he is accompanied by a man and a woman wherever he goes, is incapable of simple tasks such as ordering food from the prison commissary, and is under the delusion that he will never be executed because God will intervene and free him so that he can return to his preaching and gospel singing.

The Missouri Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, declined to intervene Saturday, according to AP. The court's majority concluded there's no evidence that Clayton — despite his brain injury — isn't capable of understanding his circumstances. The dissenting opinion countered that Clayton's attorneys "presented reasonable grounds to believe his overall mental condition has deteriorated and he is intellectually disabled."

Clayton's execution would be Missouri's second this year after executing a record 10 people in 2014. 

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