AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Judges cannot order mentally ill inmates to be medicated involuntarily to make them competent for execution, the highest criminal court in Texas has ruled.
In its decision Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not rule on the constitutionality of forcible medication, The Texas Tribune reported. But the judges ruled in 5-4 decision that a lower court did not have the power to order medication for Steven Staley, a schizophrenic sentenced to death for the killing of a Fort Worth restaurant manager during a 1989 armed robbery.
Chuck Mallin, in charge of criminal appeals in the Tarrant County prosecutor's office, said officials are considering asking for a rehearing.
Prosecutors and prison officials agree that Staley is mentally ill. His symptoms have included banging his head against the wall and periods of catatonia so long he had a bald spot from lying in one position.
"He believes there is a big conspiracy orchestrated by the state and that everybody, everybody, is part of the conspiracy," his lawyer, John Stickels, said at a hearing last year. "He believes that he was wrongfully convicted because of the conspiracy."
Prison officials argue that medicating Staley is not just to make him competent enough to be executed but would also improve his life -- while it lasts -- by ridding him of terrifying delusions that drive him to harm himself.
Meg Penrose, a law professor at Texas A&M University suggested that commuting Staley's sentence to life in prison would be the most humane and cost-effective course. She said his case has not yet reached the federal courts with taxpayers bearing the cost of both sides.