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USA (California): Insane man due to be executed: Horace Kelly, black

, N° d'index: AMR 51/022/1998

Despite overwhelming evidence that Horace Kelly is insane and does not understand that he could be about to die, his execution remains scheduled for 14 April 1998. If carried out, his execution would constitute a clear violation of both the US Constitution and international standards.

PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/22/98
EXTRA 22/98 Insane man due to be executed 27 March 1998
Despite overwhelming evidence that Horace Kelly is insane and does not
understand that he could be about to die, his execution remains scheduled for
14 April 1998. If carried out, his execution would constitute a clear violation
of both the US Constitution and international standards.
Horace Kelly was convicted in two trials in 1986 and 1988 of three murders
committed in 1984. At the time of his arrest in 1984, when aged 25, he already
had a well-documented history of mental illness. His mental health continued
to deteriorate after he was put on death row in San Quentin prison in 1988.
A prison psychiatrist reported in 1993 that Kelly did not "express an adequate
understanding of his death sentence". Later that year, Kelly was diagnosed
as suffering from chronic schizophrenia.
A psychiatrist, appointed in 1995 by the US District Court to determine whether
Kelly was competent to assist his attorneys with his federal appeal, found
that he was "suffering from a psychotic mental disorder of such severity that
it precludes his ability to appreciate his current legal position and make
rational choices with respect to the current court proceedings." In September
1997 a US Court of Appeals granted a State motion to stop Kelly’s federal appeals
proceedings because they had exceeded the time limit imposed by the 1996
Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
In March 1998, Kelly was interviewed by Dr Michael Radelet, professor and chair
of the Department of Sociology, University of Florida, and a scholar on the
use of the death penalty against the mentally ill. Dr Radelet reported that
Kelly’s speech was so disorganized and unfocused as to be totally
incomprehensible, and concluded that Kelly did not understand the nature or
purpose of his execution. Kelly stated that he had been through several "brochure
executions" and that he registered every month for "certified executions".
When asked about death, Kelly replied that "some [people] come alive, some
have false identities, some stay with different faces or changed applications".
Once Kelly’s execution date had been scheduled, the Warden of San Quentin
appointed three state prison psychiatrists to decide on the inmate’s sanity.
In March, two of the three reportedly determined that Kelly is unable to
comprehend his impending execution or appreciate the reason for his punishment.
One concluded that he does not demonstrate any "capacity to understand the
purpose" of his execution. Another wrote that, when Kelly was asked what the
term “executionmeant, he mentioned "payroll" and a "new identity". The third
psychiatrist expressed doubts about whether Kelly was sane or not.
Under California law, a prisoner must undergo a “sanity trial” if the Warden
has good reason to believe that he or she is insane. A Marin County judge,
after denying Kelly’s attorneys’ request for a stay of execution, ruled on
24 March that Kelly will undergo a sanity trial beginning on 6 April. A jury
will then determine whether he is sane and therefore able to be executed.
Despite the severity of Kelly’s illness, he has reportedly not caused any
disciplinary problems while in prison and has consistently been described as
soft spoken and passive. His fellow inmates have apparently begun recently
to care for Kelly by helping him groom his hair and cut his nails.
The execution of the insane is widely held as unacceptable on the grounds that
if the prisoner does not understand the nature and purpose of the punishment,
it undermines any justification for it. The Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection
of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty, adopted by the UN Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1984, states that the death penalty shall not
be carried out "on persons who have become insane". In 1986, the US Supreme
Court held that the execution of an inmate who becomes insane after conviction
violates the US Constitution (Ford v. Wainwright).
As of 1 January 1998 there were 477 people of death row in California, the
biggest death row. The last person to be executed in California was Keith
Williams, on 5 March 1996, - the fourth execution under the state’s current
death penalty laws. The Governor has sole authority to grant clemency. If
executed, Horace Kelly will be the first African-American to be executed in
California since 1967.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters in
English or your own language:
- expressing deep concern that Horace Kelly is scheduled for execution in
California despite overwhelming evidence that he is insane;
- noting that the execution of the insane violates the US Constitution and
international standards, quoting the ECOSOC safeguards;
- urging Governor Wilson to grant clemency to Horace Kelly and commute his
- expressing sympathy for the victims of violent crime and their families;
Please do not mention Amnesty International, or your opposition to the death
penalty, in your appeals.
The Honorable Pete Wilson
Governor of California, State Capitol, 1st Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814, USA
Telegrams: Governor Wilson, California, USA
Telephone: + 1 916 445 2841
Faxes: + 1 916 445 4633
Salutation: Dear Governor
Edward S. Berberian, Deputy District Attorney
Room 130, Hall of Justice, San Rafael, California, USA
Fax: +1 415 499 3719
The Editor, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053,
USA. Fax: +1 213 237 7190
The Editor, San Francisco Chronicle, 925 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103,
USA. Fax: + 1 415 781 1542
The Editor, Sacramento Bee, Box 15779, Sacramento CA 95852, USA.
Fax: +1 916 321 1306
and to diplomatic representatives of USA accredited to your country.

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