In the United States, there isn’t any categorical ban on the execution of criminals sentenced to death. However, some states have considered bills to allow for such exclusions, although none have been signed into law yet.

The grounds for commutations of the death sentence for the mentally-ill make sense. First, prisoners with a mental disorder may render the execution devoid of a punishing nature.

While the deterrent effect is undeniable, the convicted is without the mental capacity to understand why capital punishment has to happen in the first place.

Second, prisoners with impaired understanding may fail to assist lawyers in any legal proceeding before and after conviction, leading to inadequate legal defense.

Cognitive impairments that interfere with an individual’s decision-making process are ideally taken into account before sentencing.

Things get even murkier because mentally ill people are not always mentally incompetent at the same time. The following names are convicted criminals on death row diagnosed with various mental disorders.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

10 /10 Andre Thomas

One Texas death-row prisoner named Andre Thomas has severe schizophrenia that in two separate incidents, he gouged out both his eyes and ate one of them.

In 2004, Thomas killed his ex-wife Laura Boren, their son Andre Jr., and 13-month-old Leyah Hughes, Boren’s daughter by another man.

He was sentenced to death in March 2005 for the murder of Leyah Hughes. He has not been tried for the murders of the estranged wife and their 4-year-old son.

Thomas is housed in the Jester VI Unit, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice psychiatric treatment facility, awaiting execution.


9 /10 Richard Dean Turner

In a 1979 home invasion robbery, Richard Dean Turner killed an elderly couple in San Bernardino County. He was sentenced to death on April 16, 1980.

Turner has been diagnosed with schizophrenia/psychosis. He is, for the most part, incoherent and known to rock and bangs his head.

Turner also believes he has fathered children with female guards and is a prominent musician whose songs were stolen. His appeal for the death sentence has been awaiting a decision since 2013.


8 /10 Oscar Gates

In a dispute within an Oakland forgery ring in 1979, Oscar Gates shot his partners and killed one. He was later convicted of the murder of a woman raped at a mortuary in Los Angeles. Sentenced to death in 1981, Gates has been diagnosed with delusional, paranoid disorder.

Gates believes the state is trying to steal a Howard Hughes trust fund along with his cure for AIDS.

In Gates’ mind, Hughes knew about the 9/11 attacks and tried to warn everyone, but the country covered it. He has been deemed incompetent for execution.


7 /10 Douglas Clark

Dubbed the Sunset Killer, Douglas Clark killed six women and attempted to kill the seventh in 1980. One of the dead victims was a 15-year-old-girl. He was sentenced to death in 1980.

Although state experts say he is competent, other psychiatrists disagree and suggest that Clark has bipolar disorder.

Clark believes his death sentence is nothing but a conspiracy to cover up murders by a copycat killer of Charles Manson. His 1992 federal appeal is still pending; he remains on death row.


6 /10 Jon Dunkle

From 1981 to 1985, Jon Dunkle hunted down three boys, then raped and murdered them. He was sentenced to death in 1986 for two murders and life imprisonment without parole for one. 

Dunkle has a history of psychiatric problems, including severe learning disabilities, lack of social skills, dyslexia, and temper tantrums.

He has also been diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia. Dunkle believes he is controlled by the computer and dies every day at night to become a new being after each death. He is still on death row.


5 /10 Horace Kelly

Convicted of three murders and one attempted murder, Horace Kelly was sentenced to death in May 1986. He has been diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia.

Years on death row at the San Quentin State Prison earned him the nickname “Smelly Kelly” for his filthy habits of refusing to bathe and hoarding feces.

He keeps himself busy by folding toilet paper. A jury in 1998 ruled Kelly mentally competent, but a federal judge stayed the execution. A state expert thinks Kelly exaggerates his condition.


4 /10 James Blair

Sentenced to death in 1989 for murder, James Blair has been diagnosed with psychotic with paranoid delusion. In 1984, he poisoned a neighbor with cyanide because she owed him money. The neighbor died two years later.

He spent a decade in isolation and, through the years, insisted that he was about to be released from prison.

Blair believed his food was poisoned, and there were hidden cameras in the walls. His condition was left untreated until 2014. His diagnosis and sanity remain contested.


3 /10 Darren Stanley

During a four-day rampage in Alameda County in 1989, Darren Stanley committed six robberies and murdered a taxi driver refueling his vehicle at a gas station. He was sentenced to death in 1991.

Stanley has been diagnosed with dementia and psychosis. A CAT scan conducted in 2007 revealed that parts of his brain have decayed. He has auditory and visual delusions that he is unified with God.


2 /10 Delaney Marks

In a string of random shootings in 1990 at Oakland Taco Bell, four people were shot, and two were killed.

The perpetrator was Delaney Marks, who also stole $5 from one of the victims. He was sentenced to death in 1994.

Federal appeal lawyers argued that Marks was psychotic at the time of the murders and therefore incompetent to stand trial.

Mark has been diagnosed with chronic psychosis. He was among the inmates identified in 2014 to receive inpatient psychiatric care.


1 /10 George Emil Banks

On September 25, 1982, a former Camp Hill correctional officer opened fire using an AR-15 automatic weapon in Jenkins Township, Pennsylvania.

Seven children and six adults were killed. Five of the victims were his children, and four of the adults were either known or related to him. He was sentenced to death in June 1983.

During appeals of his case, Banks has been found mentally incompetent. In 2006, psychiatrists testified that he was delusional, psychotic, and irrational.

Another hearing several years later also found him mentally unfit for execution. He remains on death row at SCI Phoenix.

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