Insanity On Death Row
Nov. 11, 2007
(CBS) When it comes to prisoners on death row who are insane, the law is very clear: you cannot execute them. The Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional and deemed it "cruel and unusual punishment."
But can medication make a prisoner sane enough to be executed? That question is being asked in the case of convicted killer Greg Thompson.
As correspondent Lara Logan reports, Thompson was originally found competent to stand trial, but prison doctors have concluded he is mentally ill and they give him medication every day.
Thompson's lawyers argue that he is still insane on the medication, which he was taking the day 60 Minutes met with him.
Thompson told Logan he had to stab his food to eat it. "Especially eggs. They be popping up," he said. "Hit me in the face. You got to stab it. And then you gotta eat it quick. Real quick."
60 Minutes met Thompson inside a maximum security prison in Nashville.
He has been diagnosed as schizophrenic and psychotic by both prison doctors and those hired by his lawyers. And he has been medicated by the state for most of his 22 years on death row. Thompson receives a daily cocktail of anti-psychotic mood-stabilizing pills, and injections twice a month.
Asked if he knows why he's getting medication, Thompson told Logan, "Yeah, I’m nuts."
He says he only takes 10 pills a day now.
"What happens if you don’t take them?" Logan asked.
"I go lulu," Thompson replied.
"Tell me what going lulu is for you," Logan asked.
"In a few days I would like lose my mind and it would be trying to explode on me," he replied. "I got in a fight with the guards a lot of times, you know. Tried to kill a few."
"Did you kill any of them?" Logan asked.
"No," Thompson said. "But at the time they was turning into insects. And I wanted to kill them."
"The guards were turning into insects?" Logan asked.
"Yeah, they were giant insects," Thompson said. "They was acting just like the guards, but they were aliens. And I had to kill the aliens. They were attacking the world."
A psychologist who has been evaluating Thompson for nine years says he sees, hears and smells things that aren’t there, and suffers from extreme paranoid delusions and hallucinations.
But when Thompson was put on trial for murder 22 years ago, his lawyers did not raise insanity as a defense. He confessed, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing Brenda Lane. She was 28 years old, well-liked in her community and she had been married just a few months.
The facts of what happened on New Year's Day in 1985 have never been in dispute. Thompson and his girlfriend, a juvenile, wanted to get from Tennessee to Georgia, so they kidnapped Brenda Lane, stole her car and then drove around for an hour and a half on remote country roads, as Thompson searched for a place to kill her.
They stopped along a rural country road near a field. Thompson then stabbed Brenda four times in the back and drove off, leaving her to die alone in the cold and the dark.
"I thought I had to kill to survive," Thompson told Logan.
Thompson told 60 Minutes he heard voices in his head that night.
"You thought people were after you," Logan remarked.
"Yes," he replied.
And then in chilling detail, he described exactly how he killed Brenda Lane.
"She got into the front seat driver's seat. And I had the knife on her. And I sat in the back seat. And…," Thompson said.
"You jumped in the car and pulled a knife on her?" Logan asked.
"Yeah. Uh-huh," Thompson acknowledged. "Knife was already out. It was a butcher knife."
"She must have been scared," Logan remarked.
"Yeah, she was crying," Thompson said.
"She was terrified for her life," Logan said.
"I know. I know," Thompson replied.
Asked what he felt, Thompson said, "She knows she’s going to die."
Why did he kill her?
"There was no reasoning at that point," Thompson said. "It was just get away."
"Tell me how it happened. Describe it for me," Logan asked.
"Just turned her around and she didn't move and I stabbed her four times," Thompson recalled. "I wanted her to die quickly."
Asked why he wanted her to die quickly, Thompson told Logan, "Not in pain. I didn't want her to be suffering in pain."
"You think if somebody stabbed you four times in the back you're not gonna suffer?" Logan asked.
"Not really, no," Thompson said.
"You know she was still alive when you drove away," Logan pointed out.
"I heard her scream," Thompson said.
Thompson managed to escape to Georgia but was arrested there after setting Brenda Lane's car on fire. Frankie Floied, an investigator in the case back in Tennessee, says it could have taken months to find the body if Thompson -- over the telephone - hadn't given such precise, intricate, directions to the place he killed her.
"What was going through your mind at the time when you were talking to him on the phone?" Logan asked Floied.
"How calm he was," the investigator remembered. "There was no remorse. There was no passion. It was just matter of fact. 'If you'll take, you take this road, this road, this road and this road.'"
"So exact," Logan remarked.
"It’s like you telling me how to find a Frisbee that you've tossed and lost," Floied said.
"So what did that mean to you?" Logan asked.
"Cold, impassioned. Just a cruel person," Floied replied.
That was the picture prosecutors painted of Thompson at his trial. But it wasn't a complete picture, according to Thompson’s current lawyers, Dana Chavis and Steve Kissinger, who are appealing his case. They say Thompson had severe mental problems dating back to his childhood and they are fighting to keep him alive.
"If he knew what he was doing at the time, and he was competent to be executed at the time that sentence was given, why shouldn't he die for what he did?" Logan asked.
"I think the evidence points overwhelmingly to the fact that he was insane at the time," Kissinger said.
"But it was never proved," Logan said.
"Of the offense," Kissinger said.
"And it wasn’t raised at the trial," Logan said.
"Right," Kissinger said.
"He told them exactly what he’d done. He even told them where he’d thrown out the murder weapon, so they could find that on the side of the road," Logan remarked.
"I think the fact that Greg Thompson can remember things does not detract from the fact that at the time of the crime he was suffering delusions and he was hearing voices," Chavis said.
"Never brought up at the trial," Logan pointed out.
"That’s correct, never brought up at the trial because the trial attorneys did not consult with the proper people that would have seen those clear signs of Greg’s psychosis at the time, the clear signs of psychosis that everybody agrees about right now," Chavis said.
Three years ago, a federal appeals court ruled that a lower court should examine evidence that Thompson was mentally ill at the time of the crime. One judge called it "powerful mitigating evidence." But then the Supreme Court narrowly overruled the decision, saying it was too late to raise that issue. Barbara Brown, Brenda Lane’s only sister, who sat through every day of Thompson’s trial, is frustrated by the lengthy legal process.
"I don't believe that he was insane at the time he killed her. Uh, now I don't know. He's been sitting on death row 22 years. Almost anyone might be insane after this period of time," Barbara said. "It's just not right that he was given a death sentence and it not carried out."
Brenda Lane is buried on a hillside about a mile from her sister Barbara’s house. Every Sunday, Barbara goes back to the same church where she and her sister played piano, sang and prayed together. Barbara thinks the legal system is protecting Thompson and has forgotten her sister.
"It destroyed my family basically. My mother certainly never got over it," she said. "And my dad absolutely wanted to see him executed."
Both parents and Brenda's husband have all died since she was killed. "Even my husband has now passed away," Barbara said.
"I think our hearts go out to the sister," Chavis said. "And of course, what happened is a terrible tragedy. But the point now is that Greg Thompson is psychotic, that he's delusional, that he does not have a rational understanding of why the state seeks to execute him."
In what could be a last-chance appeal, Thompson's lawyers only have to prove he is insane now and doesn't understand what's happening to him, even when he is on medication, as he was during the 60 Minutes interview. He appeared most of the time to be delusional.
"Well, see I wrote some songs and sent them to Hollywood," Thompson told Logan.
Asked who he'd written them for, he said, "Garth Brooks, Reba McIntyre."
Thompson told Logan he likes country music, and that the first song he wrote was "Dirty Dishes in the Sink."
He also said he had gotten paid twice, and that the last check that was sent to him was for $444,000.
"$444,000? What did you do with that money?" Logan asked.
"I sent it to Brenda Lane's family," Thompson said.
"You sure about that?" Logan asked.
"Yeah," Thompson said.
"What if I said to you there was no check?" Logan asked.
"It’s in my name," Thompson insisted.
"What if I said to you, though, there was no check, it’s in your head, not in your name?" Logan asked.
"No, there was a check. It wasn’t in my head, you know," he claimed.
"Are you a con man? Are you acting for me?" Logan asked.
"No. I’m serious. This is me. This is who I am," Thompson replied.
"How can you be sure that Greg Thompson is not just acting up, that he’s not just pretending?" Logan asked attorney Dana Chavis.
"For over 20 years, prison doctors have administered very powerful anti-psychotic drugs to Greg Thompson. I don’t know of any doctor that would prescribe or force that type of medication upon a person unless they believed they were truly psychotic," Chavis replied.
Asked what the effect of that medication is, Chavis said, "It doesn't take away his mental illness. He's always insane. But what it does is that it hides that insanity."
"But it doesn't actually make him normal?" Logan asked.
"Not at all," Chavis replied.
But does Thompson understand that taking the medication may make him appear sane enough to be executed?
"Well, I had a -- I made a choice years ago. That if I were to get to that point I'd rather be normal than insane," Thompson told Logan.
"Why is that?" she asked.
"Because it hurts. I’m tired of being mentally ill, you know. So if they want to kill me at the end, then they kill me at the end," he replied.
"I think I have to forgive him," Brenda Lane's sister Barbara Brown said. "I am a Christian and we are to forgive people. It's hard."
"But you want him to die for what he did," Logan remarked.
"Yes, I do want to see him executed," Barbara said.
Thompson's lawyers are going back to federal court this month and hope eventually to get a ruling that Thompson -- despite his medication -- is mentally incompetent and should not be executed. The Tennessee attorney general, who declined 60 Minutes' request for an interview, is expected to argue that Thompson understands why he is being punished, is not insane, and therefore should be executed.
Asked if he's afraid to die, Thompson said, "I'm on drugs right now. And I feel good. I'm not afraid. When I -- when these drugs wear off a little bit I'll be afraid again."
"If you were executed what do you think would happen to you afterwards? What comes next?" Logan asked.
"Well, I know that the dead can speak," Thompson said.
"The dead can speak? You think you would die?" Logan asked.
"I think it'd be a horrible ending," Thompson said. "Because if the dead can speak that means you got thought in the grave. You got thoughts going on in the grave. I don't know about that."