An inmate on death row in Arkansas was granted a stay of execution last month in part because of a directive in his will that his brain be examined by neuroscientists after his death.
Jack Greene, convicted in the 1991 murder of pastor Sidney Burnett told his attorneys that he wanted medical examiners to conduct an autopsy and examination of his brain after his death. Greene and his attorneys have maintained that he suffers from severe mental illness as a result of his incarceration.
Death penalty law is complex and varies from state to state. However, the United States Constitution prohibits executing prisoners who are so mentally ill that they cannot form a rational understanding of their punishment. In Arkansas, state laws concerning the death penalty give the Department of Correction the sole authority to determine the severity of mental illness in prisoners who have been sentenced to death. Greene's attorneys argued that this policy effectively denied due process to Greene.
Greene's case has gone back and forth on the question of mental illness. Greene has told his attorneys that his treatment in prison has resulted in brain injury and dementia. His purpose in willing his brain to research after his death was to prove his mental illness. Greene's attorney, federal public defender Scott Braden, has cited many examples of his client's delusions, telling NBC News, "The state has taken the next step toward executing a man who suffers from severe mental illness. Mr. Greene has long held a fixed delusion that the Arkansas Department of Correction is conspiring with his attorneys to cover up injuries that he believes corrections officers have inflicted upon him. He complains that his spinal cord has been removed and his central nervous system has been destroyed. He believes he will be executed to cover up what he calls these ‘crimes against humanity'"
The case sheds light on the mental illness concern for many inmates on death row. Inmates who are sentenced to death at the state level are governed by the laws concerning the death penalty in the state in which their conviction was handed down. While some state death penalty laws have protocol in place to examine inmates and ensure they are mentally capable of understanding the punishment they have been given, Arkansas law does not require any mental health testimony, brain scans or medical information concerning the brain health of a death row inmate. The decision to carry out an execution in Arkansas rests solely with prison officials. Wendy Kelley, the Arkansas prison director responsible for deciding Greene's fate has stated that all the records have been reviewed and that the execution should be carried out. Greene's attorneys maintain that prison officials do not have the medical background and mental health expertise required to make an accurate decision on the intellectual or psychological disability of inmates. John Williams, another of Greene's attorneys, stated, "The system is really quite antiquated. Prison Director] Wendy Kelley is an arm of the state. She doesn't have the expertise to make that determination."
Greene was scheduled to be executed on November 9, 2017. However, the Arkansas State Supreme court issued a 5-2 ruling on November 8, 2017, granting an emergency stay of execution in a short one-page ruling that did not cite mental health concerns or any other reason for the ruling. Check out the video below for more information.