EXTERNAL AI Index: AMR 51/33/97
EXTRA 87/97 Death Penalty / Legal concern 13 June 1997
USA (KENTUCKY)Harold MCQUEEN
Harold McQueen is scheduled to be executed on 1 July 1997 in what would be
the first execution in Kentucky for 35 years.
McQueen, white, was sentenced to death for the murder of Becky O’Hearn in 1981.
He was tried along with his half-brother and co-defendant Keith Burnell for
robbery-murder. Burnell’s father paid for a private attorney to represent his
son, while McQueen was represented by a court-appointed lawyer. The maximum
payment allowed for court-appointed lawyers in 1980 was $1,000 - an insufficient
figure to allow an attorney to conduct adequate preparations for trial. During
the trial, Burnell’s attorney continually implicated McQueen as the actual
murderer of O’Hearn. McQueen’s attorney failed to request a separate trial
even though Burnell’s attorney had made it clear during pre-trial motions that
he planned to blame the murder on McQueen. Burnell was sentenced to 20 years’
imprisonment and was paroled in 1988.
McQueen’s attorney also failed to adequately present mitigating evidence during
the penalty phase of the trial (a post-conviction hearing where jury members
have to decide between a sentence of death or imprisonment based on aggravating
and mitigating factors presented by the prosecution and defence). McQueen’s
trial attorney testified in an appeal court hearing in 1984 that he did not
talk to McQueen’s family before trial because they had a bad reputation in
the community. The jury which sentenced McQueen to death was therefore unaware
that he had been severely neglected as a child and started abusing alcohol
when he was 10 years old. At the time of the crime, McQueen was addicted to
heroin and other illegal drugs.
A neuropsychologist found that McQueen suffered frontal lobe brain damage due
to long term drug abuse, and a psychopharmacologist found that McQueen could
not have formed the intent to commit murder at the time of the crime. Neither
of these experts testified at the penalty phrase of the trial, despite their
findings being recognised as mitigating factors in death penalty cases.
No court has considered the evidence that McQueen suffered from brain damage
and did not have the ability, due to intoxication, to form criminal intent
at the time of the crime. The US Supreme Court has ruled that these factors
must be considered as mitigating factors by the jury if presented by the defence.
Despite the appeal courts’ failure to adequately examine these issues,
Kentucky’s Governor, Paul Patton, stated that the courts had thoroughly reviewed
McQueen’s conviction and death sentence when he announced that he had signed
the death warrant.
McQueen has been a “model” prisoner during his 16 years on death row. He has
taken part in a program designed to stop juvenile offenders re-offending by
talking to them about his own experience and has worked as a janitor in the
prison. The unit administrator for the death row described McQueen’s custody
score (inmates obtain points for rule violations) as “so low he would have
been gone [been transferred to a lesser security prison] years ago for good
conduct” were he not under sentence of death. Other prison officials have signed
statements confirming their belief that McQueen would not be a danger to the
general prison population were he to be transferred from death row.