Clear Thinking

On February 11, 2003, Charles Laverne Singleton was executed by lethal injection. Aged 20, he attacked a woman who later died from the blood loss; however, soon after his conviction he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and could be considered sane only when on medication. What followed were 24 years of legal battles as Singleton’s attorney tried to deny the state the right to medicate Singleton in order to make him sane to fulfill execution requirements. This was clearly a controversial case with many people arguing either for or against the final verdict which allowed the state to medicate Singleton. That the final verdict was such a close call – a 6-to-5 decision – just shows how controversial this case is. While choosing sides on it, one has to answer a lot of smaller questions, like “Should we punish people who can’t entirely understand the consequences of their choices?” Although the execution of the mentally insane convicted is unconstitutional, many people support it. Even though I am not amongst them, I can see why, in fact, the current system is not entirely fair: people whose loved ones were murdered hardly get any justice apart from the fact that the killers were caught. There, another question arises: What is a proper punishment for murder? Those are just two of many questions that we have to answer. In the end though, I think that the state made a right choice: Singleton should have been executed, and if it required medicating him in order to make him sane, then medicating it was.

The important thing about this case is that Singleton was diagnosed with his illness while in prison. Even though we can't say with 100% certainty that he was not ill when he killed Mary Lou York, it is highly unlikely that he did not understand the probable consequences of his own actions by the time of the murder. For some reason, it took people responsible quite a long time to finally build a case and those delays certainly backfired. Singleton was diagnosed with schizophrenia and it allowed him to appeal five times (although this is clearly not the most important issue here, it should be noted that taxpayers paid for 24 years of his incarceration). It is reasonable to believe that Singleton was sane on the day of the murder. Therefore, if medication could make him sane again and execution was the chosen punishment, some justice could finally be found there. It is not fair that a person who took someone’s life had a luxury of 24 more years, albeit he was ill for the most of them.

Now, one could argue that a mental illness for the rest of one's life is a big enough punishment in itself. The law requires defendants to take medications so that they are “sane enough” to stand their own trial. However, it is not clear whether or not this actually helps defendants as at some point, even when sane, they are likely to start questioning their own sanity. They can condemn what they did during the ‘blackouts’, but they cannot trust themselves the way people who are not suffering from mental illness can and it can be a horrifying experience for them. Death penalty is a controversial punishment, but turning people on and off during their trials can be an even crueler thing to do. And there is still a tiny chance that the murder was the first manifestation of Singleton’s future insanity.

However, those arguments are not very strong. While it might not make much sense from any other point of view bar legal that the convicted should be medicated in order to be sane for the execution, it is a necessary requirement and should be followed. In any case, at that point there might be whole new levels of (in)sanity and medicating a person becomes just a cruel technical procedure. In the end, sane or not while executed, it does not change a fact that the only “insanity” in Singleton’s actions on that day was the murder itself.

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