(No. M2005-1941-CCA-R3-DD Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Circuit Court for Williamson County, Judge Russ Heldman)
Plaintiff Representation: Cassandra Stubbs, ACLU Capital Punishment Project; Kelly A. Gleason, Tennessee Post-Conviction Defender Office (Direct Representation); E. Covington Johnston, Jr., Attorney At Law
Appellee: State of Tennessee
Appellant: Richard C. Taylor
The ACLU Capital Punishment Project represented Richard Taylor, a schizophrenic, delusional and psychotic Tennessee death row inmate, in a direct appeal of his 2003 conviction for first degree murder.
Despite four prior judicial findings of incompetency, Taylor was permitted in 2003 to represent himself at his capital trial without even advisory counsel, despite the fact that he continued to make bizarre and delusional statements. Mr. Taylor represented himself at the two-day capital trial while wearing his prison uniform and sunglasses. Taylor called no witnesses, introduced no evidence, and presented no defense. The few cross-examination questions he posed during the guilt-innocence phase of his trial were delusional, and he was completely silent during the sentencing phase of the proceedings. The jury was never presented with compelling evidence of Taylor’s difficult childhood, suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations or severe mental illness. Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before imposing the death sentence.
On March 7, 2008 the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his conviction and death sentence, concluding that a number of significant errors were made during his 2003 trial. Those errors included the denial of his constitutional right to counsel at a pre-trial competency hearing, the failure of the trial court to hold a competency hearing during the trial, and the failure of the trial court to appoint advisory counsel.
In exchange for a life sentence, Taylor pled guilty on June 3, 2008, to the 1981 murder of a prison guard — a crime committed only after prison officials stopped giving Taylor his anti-psychotic medication. The life plea is a great result for Mr. Taylor, whose serious mental illness infected every step of his case, from the crime through two trials and 27 years of litigation. His case demonstrates the fundamental unfairness of seeking the death penalty against the severely mentally ill.
Death Sentence Of Mentally Ill Man Reversed (March 11, 2008)