A federal appeals panel has ruled Mississippi's process of evaluating the
mental competency of death row inmate Robert Simon Jr. was unfair.
The 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a
Mississippi federal judge to take another look at Simon's case.
Simon was sentenced to death for the killings of three members of a Quitman
County family. He got a life sentence in the death of a 4th family member. A
5th Circuit panel stopped Simon's execution last May because of questions about
the procedure and directed attorneys to file briefs on the mental evaluation
The Mississippi Supreme Court temporarily delayed Simon's execution last April
to give prosecutors and the defense time to review Simon's medical records.
That ruling came amid a claim by Simon's attorney that the inmate had suffered
a fall and could not understand his case and had trouble carrying on
Court records show Simon was found unconscious in his cell on Jan. 7, 2001. He
spent several days in the hospital at the Parchman state prison. He was
examined by mental health experts chosen by the prison.
The Mississippi court denied Simon's request to be evaluated by his mental
health expert. Instead, Simon relied on an affidavit from a mental health
expert who had reviewed Simon's medical records. That expert reported the
medical records indicated Simon may have suffered some neuropsychological
damage from the fall. The expert said a complete mental evaluation would
determine how much damage Simon suffered. The attorney general's office
responded with affidavits from the 2 prison-selected experts.
The Mississippi court ruled Simon's medical records showed no sign of
impairment. A federal judge sided with the state in May 2011 decision. Simon
appealed to the 5th Circuit.
The 3-judge panel, in its ruling released Thursday, said it was difficult to
view the process as fair when Simon was not allowed a mental evaluation from
someone other than a prison expert.
"We do not hold that prisoners are entitled to experts in order to make a
threshold showing of incompetence.
"We merely hold that the procedures in this case, which allowed the state to
present expert evaluations while Simon was prevented from presenting
countervailing expert evaluations, violated fundamental fairness and due
process," the panel said.
"The competency evaluation must at all times be a process that is fundamentally
fair to the prisoner alleging his own incompetence, and the process Simon
received did not meet that standard."
(source: Sun Herald)