Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Help Stop the Execution of Hart Turner

For more information, please contact:
Jim Craig, Louisiana Capital Assistance Center
 636 Baronne Street, New Orleans, LA 70113
Contact the Governor:
The Hon. Phil Bryant
Governor of Mississippi 
Phone: 601.359.3150

At the request of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, the MS Supreme Court has set the execution of Edwin Hart Turner for 6 pm on February 8.  Hart is on death row for killing two men at a Mississippi gas station in 1995.  He had no prior criminal history.

            Just six weeks before the crime, Hart was released from a three-month stay at a mental institution after his second suicide attempt in five years.  Upon release Hart felt “upbeat” and those around him were hopeful that he was finally recovering from the mental disturbances which had plagued him since childhood.

           He wasn’t.  Hart’s behavior grew increasingly bizarre and manic.  He attributed his new energy to the Prozac prescribed by the hospital but said that he “could not sleep because his mind was going too fast” and that he “couldn’t think right” or “make a complete sentence in his head.”  A few days before the crimes, Hart broke down and sobbed uncontrollably for hours – “shift[ing] back and forth many times from ‘I am not a bad person’ to ‘I am a bad person,’” before eventually falling asleep fully clothed, awaking the next morning with no memory of what happened.

           Hart’s mental disturbance wasn’t surprising given his background. Though Hart was a “considerate and affectionate boy” who would “hug you when he saw you,” he was raised in an environment of abuse and trauma.  His family tree was littered with mental illness – his grandmother and great-grandmother were each committed to the State Hospital at Whitfield on numerous occasions.  Hart was raised by alcoholics who fought in his presence and threw furniture at each other constantly.  Hart’s mother attempted suicide twice, and when Hart was twelve his father was killed in a dynamite explosion that his family has come to believe was actually suicide.

           Hart’s own struggles with mental illness began early – his mother took Hart to the hospital on two occasions when Hart was fifteen, reporting that he was “acting funny,” and Hart told doctors he was having trouble sleeping and his generally good grades were falling. Throughout adolescence, Hart was repeatedly hospitalized for what was called “agitated depression.”  At 18 Hart attempted to kill himself with a rifle.  The barrel of the gun slipped enough to spare his life, but the bullet blasted through his face leaving him permanently disfigured.  From then on, Hart wore a towel wrapped around his face to hide the scars, which he never removed, choosing even to leave the room to eat or drink rather than expose his face to his family.

           Five years, and several unsuccessful treatments, later, Hart slit his wrists.  He was hospitalized and treated for an impulse disorder.  Hart was discharged then readmitted pursuant to court order, diagnosed as having a major depressive disorder and personality disorder, and prescribed Prozac.  Hart’s Prozac dosage was quickly doubled.  Then Hart was again released, reported “feeling so good,” and defied orders to attend outpatient appoint­ments.  His mania deepened.  Hart acted erratic and impulsive, and even stripped off all his clothes (and his face-shrouding towel) and danced in a local bar.  Six weeks after his release, Hart, who had no prior criminal history, shot and killed Everett Curry and Eddie Brooks, in an irrational and impulsive crime.  Hart, dressed in his tell-tale face towel and thus immedi­ately recognizable to the residents of his small Mississippi town, was well-off financially after his father’s death and had no particular reason to commit the robberies and homicides.
           Hart was immediately arrested and tried for capital murder.  The jury deciding Hart’s fate heard simply that he was depressed, that his depression was “well-controlled” at the time of the murders, so the killings could only be explained by the fact that Hart simply “lacked moral brakes.”

           In the 17 years since Hart’s trial, legal technicalities have blocked the courts from  taking evidence and squarely deciding the question of whether Hart suffered from a mental disorder which impacted his capacity for judgment and/or was able to control his conduct at the time of the crime.  At the same time it scheduled Hart Turner for execution, the Supreme Court refused to order an official medical exam to determine his mental condition and report to the Court.

  Numerous mental health experts have reviewed the case and have reached the conclusion that Hart was suffering from a severe mental disorder at the time of the crimes which would have impacted his moral and legal culpability.  These experts agree that at the very minimum, Hart’s history demonstrates the need for a searching mental health review.  They point to a laundry list of facts that merit further inquiry:

           * Hart’s own documented history of mental disturbances, bizarre behavior leading up to the offense, and repeated hospitalizations throughout adolescence for impulsiveness, agitated depression, and suicidal thinking and actions.

           * Hart’s family history of mental illness, including a grandmother and a great-grandmother who were institutionalized with diagnoses of schizophrenia, prevalent addiction in the family, and suicide attempts from both parents.

           * Hart’s documented history indicative of traumatic brain injury, including being unresponsive and potentially anoxic at birth, hospital treatment on at least three occasions for head injuries, battles with substance abuse including gasoline huffing as a young teenager,  a shotgun blast to the face and head, and an 18-point drop in performance IQ (from 108 to 90). At the time of his offense, neither PET scans nor fMRI were in wide use, or used on Hart.

            * Hart’s exposure to traumatic events during childhood, including witnessing intense physical fights between his parents, his father’s horrifying death and his mother’s threats to beat him if he cried about it.  Hart has never been evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

           * Developments in the treatment of mental illness since 1995 which demonstrate the danger that anti-depressants (like Prozac) may actually compound mania when prescribed to individuals with bipolar disorder.

           Without intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court or by the Governor of Mississippi, Hart Turner, a man suffering from a life-long, hereditary and crippling mental illness, will be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday, February 8, 2012.  Please help!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Would love to, how? As a sufferer of (by this story) mild bipolar disorder I can fully empathise, whilst I never had to endure or suffer external difficulties of such a sad nature, I have suffered internally - thankfully never causing harm to anyone except myself by a couple suicide attempts. I can't BELIEVE the court wouldn't order a mental evaluation, that's scandalous - a crime in itself! I CAN actually believe it sadly, they left my partner to rot in Oklahoma State Penitentiary till they pushed him so far he hanged himself. I really DO want to help but from this side of the world (England, UK) I feel so frustrated and don't know how I can. The death penalty is so completely WRONG, they can't reverse it if they get it wrong and its not like it's even working - people still go on killing. Be assured that you will all be in my thoughts and prayers and I sincerely hope something positive happens between now and Wednesday.