The state Supreme Court has unanimously decided that George Banks convicted of mass murder nearly 30 years ago was mentally unfit to be put to death because he lacked a "rational understanding" of the death penalty or its reasons for application.
According to the Associated Press, among Banks' delusions are his belief that a police conspiracy resulted in at least two of his victims' deaths, that he was being poisoned in prison by the state Corrections Department, and that he was "supposed to be exempt" from execution or that his death sentence had been vacated "by God, Jesus, the governor, George Bush or some combination of the same," the ruling said.
While the Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Banks reached the same decision last month that lower courts in the case had several times before, it did so with a fleshed-out 32-page opinion, according to The Legal Intelligencer.
Although Banks — convicted of a 13-person killing spree, including five of his children — has shown the ability to draw a connection between his conviction and once-impending death sentence, defense experts converged on the notion that the link was "irrational and illogical." They said Banks' mental delusions had become "so interwoven with the factual understanding of his circumstances" that he was
mentally unfit for the death penalty, reported The Legal Intelligencer.
The Supreme Court then invoked plenary jurisdiction in late 2004 to resolve that issue, along with other questions that the leading U.S. precedent — Ford v. Wainwright — seemed to leave for the state courts to figure out themselves. In Ford , the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the common law rule that the insane cannot be put to death, but Castille said it did not provide guidance for state courts' procedural review of competency claims or "substantive standards" to govern such review.
A subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decision came down in 2007 — Panetti v. Quarterman — which clarified the due process boundaries "when a colorable competency challenge is raised," Castille said. But, he added, the case still did not "direct the specific vehicle for pursuing such relief."
According to The Legal Intelligencer, where Ford established case law that the Eighth Amendment prohibited execution of the insane, Panetti expanded upon the ruling by "shedding more light on how competency should be evaluated under the Eighth Amendment," Castille said.
Panetti , which came down between Banks' first two competency hearings before Conahan, was instructive.
"Following Panetti , it is clear that the Eighth Amendment requires a petitioner not only to have a factual understanding of the penalty and the reasons for it, but also a rational understanding of it," Castille said. "Delusions or other psychotic symptoms cannot be simply discounted because the petitioner has a cognitive awareness of his circumstances," reported The Legal Intelligencer.
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