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Convicted cop-killer who lost part of brain in accident asks for execution halt

Cecil Clayton lost a fifth of his frontal lobe after a sawmill accident in 1972.

By Andrew V. Pestano
Convicted cop-killer who lost part of brain in accident asks for execution halt
Brain scan of Cecil Clayton displaying the missing part of his brain encircled in blue. Photo Courtesy U.S. Supreme Court.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., March 17 (UPI) -- A man convicted of killing a sheriff's deputy has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his Tuesday execution because of disabilities stemming from an injury where he lost part of his brain.

Cecil Clayton, 74, was injured in a sawmill accident when a piece of wood shot into his skull in 1972. Doctors removed a fifth of his frontal lobe in surgery -- about eight percent of his brain.

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Clayton's lawyers argue that after the injury and subsequent surgery, he suffered from hallucinations, depression, paranoia, alcoholism and suicidal and violent behaviors. He shot and killed Chris Castetter, a sheriff's deputy, in 1996 when the officer was responding to a domestic disturbance call.

After his arrest, Clayton displayed confusion by saying that his victim "shouldn't have smarted off to me," but adding "but I don't know because I wasn't out there."

Clayton was found guilty and sentenced to death. The Missouri Supreme Court voted on Saturday 4-3 against his appeal that mental illness and intellectual disability make him ineligible for the death penalty and that the execution would carry on as planned.

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"This Court, nonetheless, rushes to reject his request for a hearing before a special master at which he can attempt to prove his incompetency claim and his claim that he is intellectually disabled," dissenting judges wrote. "The majority's decision to proceed with the execution at this time and in these circumstances violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment."

The defense for Clayton said that two doctors have deemed him incompetent, but since the Missouri court found that Clayton knows why he is being sentenced to death, he is competent for execution.

The U.S. Supreme Courts prohibits the execution of people with intellectual disabilities, but leaves the states to define what "intellectual disability" means.

"The school records and other evidence provided by Clayton in this case show that he was of average intelligence -- or better -- before age 18, and this continued at least until his brain injury in 1972," the Missouri court explained in its ruling. "Accordingly, he cannot be 'intellectually disabled' as that term is defined in Missouri law."

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