PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/178/00
UA 356/00 Death penalty / Legal concern 21 November 2000
USA (Oklahoma)Robert William Clayton, Native American, aged 39
Robert Clayton is scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma on 4 January 2001 for
the 1985 murder of Rhonda Kay Timmons. His clemency hearing before the state
Pardon and Parole Board is due to take place on 30 November.
Nineteen-year-old Rhonda Timmons was killed on 25 June 1985 in her flat in
Tulsa. She had been stabbed and struck on the head. Robert Clayton, who worked
as a groundskeeper at the apartment block, was arrested. He made two statements
implicating himself as the murderer. He has since recanted the confessions
and maintains that he did not kill Timmons.
At the time, Robert Clayton was a mentally impaired 24-year-old. A psychologist,
who testified at the trial, assessed that he had an IQ of 68 (indicating a
learning disability), a tendency to be dependent and submissive, and was
emotionally immature. The son of alcoholic parents, Robert Clayton had dropped
out of school when he was about 12 years old.
One of the police officers who questioned Clayton admitted that he “seemed
a little bit on the slow side”, and that it took a “considerable amount” of
explanation to help him understand his right to remain silent and to have a
lawyer present. The trial court ruled that the first confession was inadmissible
on the grounds that Clayton had not understood these rights. The second
confession was taken after an attorney advised Clayton not to make any statement,
or to answer any more questions. However, when the lawyer left, the police
took a second confession, allegedly on Clayton’s insistence. The court ruled
that this statement was admissible as evidence.
Given the lack of physical or eyewitness evidence positively identifying Clayton
as the killer, the confession was important to the prosecution. However, the
trial jury did not hear the statement, as it had not been recorded. Instead,
it heard the police officer’s recollection of it, which has itself raised
concern. For example, the officer testified that Clayton had said that he had
a knife with him when he went to Timmons’ apartment. However, at an earlier
hearing on the admissibility of the confession, when asked if Clayton had
mentioned a knife, the officer had replied categorically that he had not. The
prosecutor then gave the officer a copy of the officer’s written report in
order to “refresh [his] memory”. After reviewing the report, the officer stated
“apparently I stand corrected on that”.
Prior to the trial, the court found that there was doubt as to Clayton’s
competency to stand trial, that is, as to whether he would be able to understand
the proceedings and be able to assist in his defence. The court ordered an
evaluation. A doctor carried out an examination on 11 July 1985 and, in a one
paragraph report, found Clayton competent. However, the court did not hold
a competency hearing as required by law. On appeal, the court was ordered to
conduct a retrospective competency hearing, if feasible.
The court first held a hearing to determine if it was feasible to hold a
competency hearing nearly six years after the trial. The only expert witness
who testified at the feasibility hearing said that the available records
concerning Clayton’s competency were “poor”, and that it would not be possible
to establish competency on such records. Nevertheless, the court held a
competency hearing, and in September 1991 ruled that Clayton had been competent