Thursday, December 10, 2009

Set to be executed: Mental patient didn't meet the criteria for commitment, despite efforts of family

Even in the earliest days of our country's history, our common law made exceptions for the insane. They were not to be punished for their crimes, let alone put to death; a criminal who was mentally ill was instead locked in a psychiatric hospital, such as they existed in those times.

But since the war against forced hospitalization began 40 or so years ago, we have given up on helping the mentally ill before they harm themselves or others. So now we are left imprisoning or executing people who commit crimes no one, not even the offender, understands.

On Friday, Matthew Eric Wrinkles, a man who was in need of psychiatric care and was denied that care by the government because his family was told they did not have the authority to hold him against his will, will be executed in Indiana. Here is the story from Fox News:
Wrinkles, 49, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection before dawn Friday at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. He has exhausted his appeals in state and federal courts and last month declined to request clemency from Gov. Mitch Daniels. His attorneys say they don't intend to file any legal action that would contradict his wishes. ...

Debra Jean Wrinkles ... died July 21, 1994, along with her brother, Mark "Tony" Fulkerson, and his wife, Natalie. ... Their murders occurred just days after Wrinkles' mother had tried to have him committed because of his erratic behavior.

Court records show Wrinkles had been briefly hospitalized about two weeks before the killings but was released after a psychiatrist determined he was not "gravely disabled." Doctors told his mother he didn't meet the criteria for a second commitment.

Debra Wrinkles and her children were staying at the Fulkersons' home when Wrinkles climbed over a fence about 2 a.m. and cut the phone lines. Court documents show he was wearing camouflage clothes and face paint and armed with a gun and a knife when he kicked open the door of the home where his estranged wife was staying.

Wrinkles shot Mark Fulkerson in front of Fulkerson's 3-year-old son, then shot Debra Wrinkles as their daughter pleaded for her mother's life. He shot Natalie Fulkerson in the face.

If Indiana law in 1994 had been sensible, Matthew Eric Wrinkles, who obviously was out of his mind, would have been hospitalized against his will. But the law itself was crazy. He was let go. He committed this horrible act. And now he will die for it, as well.

That crime took place 14 years ago. Yet nothing in the law to protect the mentally ill has changed. When will we wake up and change our laws?

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