Saturday, March 19, 2011

Death Sentence Overturned, Inmate Kills Self

George Hatton Smithey fought his death sentence for more than 20 years. He had been sitting on California's death row since his conviction for a 1988 attempted rape and murder. On August 23, 2010 he achieved success. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

How did Smithey celebrate? He hanged himself with a bed sheet in his cell. Was the appeal pursued against his will? Did the 70-year-old Smithey want to be executed? Had Smithey lost the will to live because his fight to overturn his death sentence had ended, albeit with success?

The likelihood of dying by lethal injection in California is not very good. Since 1978 thirteen inmates have been executed. Fifty-four have died by natural causes and 18 have committed suicide--Smithey not included, he committed suicide shortly after leaving death row.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia, 506 U.S 304(2002) banned the execution of the mentally retarded. Smithey's legal team had been trying to prove that their client was mentally retarded ever since. In 2008, the California Supreme Court sent Smithey's case back to county court to determine if he was mentally retarded. The county court said he was in fact mentally retarded and commuted his sentence.

Deputy District Attorney Seth Matthews wondered about something Smithey said July 22 during his examination by a forensic psychologist, according to the Lodi Record. After the interview the psychologist told Matthews that Smithey "didn't want to be found retarded or labeled retarded."

Apparently, Smithey was quit ready to face execution, but the prospect of being labelled mentally retarded was more than he could handled.

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