US Supreme Court refuses to block Texas execution

A Texas man lost a last-minute appeal that argued he was mentally ill

Published October 11, 2012 1:30PM (EDT)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas man whose lawyers said was mentally ill and incompetent for execution was headed to the death chamber Wednesday night for killing a 12-year-old girl more than a decade ago, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an 11th-hour appeal.

Jonathan Green, 44, was sentenced to death for the abduction, rape and strangling of Christina Neal, whose body was found at his home in June 2000. Christina's family lived across a highway from Green in Dobbin, about 45 miles northwest of Houston.

It appeared the Supreme Court cleared the way for his execution earlier Wednesday when it rejected an appeal from his attorneys just as the window for the lethal injection opened at 6 p.m. However, the punishment was delayed Wednesday night by another appeal that finally was refused less than two hours before the midnight expiration of the death warrant neared.

The high court's initial one-paragraph order denying a stay of execution came after a federal appeals court, acting on an appeal from Texas state attorneys, rescinded a reprieve from a judge earlier this week.

Green's attorneys argued he was mentally incompetent for the death penalty, saying he suffered from hallucinations, leading to the reprieve from a federal district judge in Houston.

But the Texas attorney general's office persuaded the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling and lift the stay of execution late Tuesday, less than 24 hours before Green could be taken to the death chamber.

In the last-minute appeal filed in the moments after the six-hour time window for execution opened, Green's lawyers said they weren't allowed to object to the language in the state court's order from two years ago that found him competent for execution. State attorneys opposed the appeal.

Green's lethal injection would be the 10th this year in Texas and the first of four scheduled for this month in the nation's most active death penalty state.

The appeals court said it found the procedures at Green's competency hearing were not improper, that no Supreme Court precedents were violated and that it was reasonable to find Green competent for the death penalty.

"We conclude that the state court applied the correct standard and the (federal) district court abused its discretion in finding otherwise," the three-judge panel ruled.

Green's lawyer, James Rytting, said his client hallucinated about the "ongoing spiritual warfare between two sets of voices representing good and evil."

Green told a psychiatrist who examined him before the competency hearing that he didn't and couldn't have killed Christina, that false evidence was used against him, and that he understood a murder conviction could result in him receiving an injection that would kill him.

Supreme Court guidance says mental illness can't disqualify someone from execution if they understand the sentence and reasons for the punishment, the state lawyers argued.

Green has declined to speak with reporters as his execution date neared.

Investigators questioned Green at least twice in the days following Christina's disappearance 12 years ago. His wallet was found in some woods near clothing and jewelry that belonged to Christina, but authorities found nothing else of significance at the time. A few weeks later, a tip from a neighbor about an unusually large burn pile behind his ramshackle home brought them back again.

While Green had been cooperative in the past, he grew testy and ordered them off his property when an FBI agent looking at the fire site detected the smell of a decaying body and inserted a metal probe into a patch of disturbed earth. They returned hours later with a search warrant and a dog trained to detect human remains.

The dog led officers to the girl's body, stuffed inside a laundry bag in the home and wedged into a corner behind a piece of furniture. Green contended someone else had placed the body there and that he was being set up.

Evidence at his trial indicated he had tried to burn the body, buried it in a shallow grave, then removed it when detectives left to obtain the search warrant. DNA from her remains tied him to the slaying. A carpet fiber from her panties found in the woods was traced to a carpet in his home.

Two years ago, Green came within about four hours of execution before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the punishment amid similar arguments he was too delusional and too mentally ill to be put to death.

By Michael Graczyk

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