Killing the Mentally Ill Is No Solution
The death penalty has one so called social purpose and that is to deter prospective offenders from commiting any future crimes. Though this is questionable in itself, and debatable in more ways than one, what is more frightening is when we impose a death sentence on an individual who is mentally ill and who has diminished capacities to understand and process information; an individual who is unable to communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand the reactions of others.
Richard Henyard, whose execution date has been set for September 23, 2008 falls into this category. Recent research concerning emotional development points to the fact that Mr Henyard's mental and emotional deficits have produced a disability within him which is identical to mental retardation in its disabling features. This was not been taken into account by the court when imposing a death sentence on this man. At the time of the murder of both Jamilya, 7, and Jasmine, 3, Lewis, and the rape of their mother, Dorothy Lewis, evidence points to the fact that Henyard was sufferring from a neurological impairment which rendered his social and cognitive skills impaired. Yet the trial court chose to put little weight on these mitigating circumstances, downplaying the fact that at the time of the murder, the defendant was functioning at the emotional level of a thirteen year old and was of low intelligence; ignoring that the defendant had an impoverished upbringing. Limited importance on the fact that the defendant was born into a dysfunctional family.
Mr. Henyard was abandoned by his mother from the age of two months. Although she was physically present at times, she did not bond with Mr. Henyard or demonstrate any emotional connection with her child. Mr. Henyard’s impaired caregiving at infancy produced avoidant/disorganized attachment, which compromised his emotional maturity. He suffered from attachment disorganization and was subject to severe and chronic trauma.
Research indicates that emotional development and the ability to make emotional and social judgments is a skill that begins developing very early, as an infant, and is shaped by both neuropsychological (brain-based) factors such as nonverbal abilities, as well as early emotional environmental influence such as a maternal bond. Mr. Henyard's inability to adapt lies at the core of his capacity to function and to embrace the moral accountabily which is necessary to face the reasons which have brought his actions to warrant the death penalty.
The Defendant’s mental condition at the time of the offense bars the adoption of the death penalty under the rationale of Atkins, 536 U.S. 304 and Roper v. Simmons, 543. In effect the execution of a mentally ill inmate is deemed unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment prohibits "excessive" sanctions on people suffering from mental illness to the same degree as mr. Henyard, who have diminished capacities and personal culpablity. Why then is this man facing imminent execution?
At the time this crime was commited Henyard, who was just 18, was associating with Alfonza Smalls, his codefendant in this case, barely 14 years old. Tipically, Henyard's pattern seemed to be to seek out younger children as companions due to his lower IQ and "mental" age of 13/14 in order to avoid harassment from children his own age. He was functioning within a background which offered him no support, one in which he chose to be a follower rather than a leader. He displayed a very withdrawn character while growing up, and other than a neglectful mother who rarely accepted her responsibilities and who exposed him to her own petty theivery, there was no significant role model in this boy's life to give him guidance. His overwhelming need to be accepted by others, his emotional abandonment are critical factors in the way this man's life evolved and how it shaped his actions. Records indeed indicate a long pattern of biological-based learning problems in early childhood, traumatic neglect, and
emotional impoverishment which combined, impacted his character in a way which caused him to function at a substantially subnormal level. At the time of the crime, Mr. Henyard was acting with the mind of a 13 year old. How is it possible to justify the death sentence with such an individual? One must seriously question whether a man with this sort of disability is fully able to assess potential outcomes from different courses of action that present themselves to him.
In 2008 Jason Nawara who was housed in the same jail as Henyard's codefendant, sumitted an affadevit in which he testified that Smalls boasted more than once to having himself commited the killings, never implicating Henyard. Such testimony submitted during the penalty phase of the trial would in itself establish statutory mitigation that Mr. Smalls is more culpable than Mr. Henyard and/or that Mr. Henyard’s involvement was relatively minor in comparison to Mr. Smalls. This evidence could establish mitigation and confirm that Mr. Henyard was infact not the actual person who shot Jasmine and Jamilya. This alone merits consideration by the court. It again places doubt on how guilty Mr. Henyard truly is.
While Henyard's deficiencies do not warrant his exemption from criminal sanctions, Florida Support believes that killing this individual is not the solution. What needs to be emphasized is how important it is to take into account the whole framework of Richard`s upbringing, at both a social and psychological level together with the factors which lead this then child to participate in actions which required a level of moral understanding and social responsability well out of his reach. We are now equipped with more options to help individuals like this to coup and function. Killing Richard Henyard is not an option. He can be provided with the tools to live a fruitful life , one in which he can contribute positively to this society, and be of support to other victims. He can be equipped with a new found social consciouns and encouraged by the support of qualified people, step beyond the traumas of his past. With God's forgiveness, we can save a neglected life and help a lost soul to find his way back into the fold.
Today, Richard has a good rapport with Florida Support . He should be given the chance he has never had and recognition that he can function effectively if allowed to understand and deal with his own limitations. What purpose would there be in destroying another life when there is so much to show that Henyard was acting with deminished responsability at that time? Can we even really be sure that he ever committed the crimes he is accused of? There is doubt there too as to the part he played that night. With support and with guidance, the ghosts of his misgiven youth can be chased away. The imposition of the death penalty on a measurably severe mentally ill person, is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering. We cannot allow that to happen.