By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
MARIN COUNTY COURTHOUSE -- Last summer, death-row inmate William Kirkpatrick sent a hand-written request from his San Quentin prison cell to the California Supreme Court demanding that his legal appeals be dropped and that he be executed. ”I’m fed up with your shit,“ he wrote. ”This 20-year joke has gone on long enough.“ On Monday, at a hearing here to determine whether Kirkpatrick is mentally competent to make such a decision, the inmate appeared to have something else on his mind.
Dressed in loose-fitting, prison-issue white pants and shirt, his eyes concealed behind dark glasses, Kirkpatrick was ushered into the courtroom through a security door by four prison guards. He immediately turned to the judge and insisted on representing himself in a new trial. Judge John S. Graham ordered him to sit down. When the shackled inmate refused, the guards leaned in and tried to press him into the seat. Kirkpatrick began to jerk violently, slamming into a wooden railing. ”Let go of me, motherfucker,“ he snarled at one of the guards, lurching out of his grasp. When it became clear that Kirkpatrick was not going to calm down, the judge ordered him returned to San Quentin. On his way out, Kirkpatrick threw himself against the walls. ”Criminal charges against you a long time ago, Graham!“ he shouted as the guards carted him off.
Kirkpatrick, who is 41, was convicted of killing two workers at a Burbank Taco Bell in 1983. L. Wayne Hunter, 27, and James Falconio, 16, were each shot once in the head with a .22-caliber bullet, and $625 was missing from the safe and cash register. An accomplice, Eddie Salazar, was convicted of first-degree murder and received a sentence of 25 years to life. Kirkpatrick‘s criminal record before that consisted of misdemeanor convictions for drunken driving and receiving stolen property.
He is just one of several death-row inmates who have recently asked to drop their appeals. (Bob Massie, who is slated for execution later this month, was granted a similar request.) But Kirkpatrick’s case is the only one in California in recent years where the inmate‘s mental state is in question. Kirkpatrick’s lawyers, led by William H. Forman, a deputy federal public defender, argue that their client is paranoid and delusional, and in no way able to make rational decisions about his legal status. The prosecution, represented by David P. Druliner, chief assistant state attorney general for the criminal division, maintains that Kirkpatrick is an intelligent man who uses public outbursts and profanity as a way to feel some sense of control. It is against the law to execute the insane, but if Kirkpatrick is found mentally fit to drop his appeals, very little stands between him and execution. If Graham finds him not competent, it would likely be years before all of the legal challenges to his conviction and sentencing could be resolved.
Kirkpatrick himself takes offense at any suggestion that he might be suffering from mental illness, and there is no record of psychiatric intervention during his childhood in Brooklyn or after he moved to the L.A. area and became homeless. Kirkpatrick started drinking heavily and was using a variety of drugs, including marijuana, PCP and heroin. Court records show that Kirkpatrick began exhibiting behavior that raised serious questions about his mental state. He has both vehemently sworn his innocence and, during a prior attempt to get himself executed in 1996, just as strongly proclaimed himself ”guilty as shit.“
This time around he has alternately said he wants to be executed and that he intends to get a retrial, represented either by himself or by an unnamed famous black attorney who will help prove his innocence of the crimes he was convicted of 17 years ago. Kirkpatrick, who is half Mexican and half African-American, has repeatedly declared himself the victim of a racist plot whose participants include not only prison guards and prosecutors, but judges and his own attorneys as well. In letters of complaint sent to various government bodies, Kirkpatrick has called Judge Graham a ”fucking ninny,“ and Forman a ”homosexual racist“ whose ”bigotry is revealed by his liberal use of the word nigger.“ Kirkpatrick has consistently refused to speak to defense attorney Forman, who has represented him for seven years, or to accept any mail from him. But in his request to drop his appeals, Kirkpatrick complained that Forman‘s office ”refuses to communicate with this nigger.“
The most extreme instance of Kirkpatrick’s ire against his defense occurred in 1990, during a meeting at San Quentin with state Public Defender George Mertens, who had been representing him for about a year. The relationship, according to Mertens, had been a difficult one. Kirkpatrick would obsess over lists of complaints he wanted his lawyer to address, then abruptly change his mind. He complained that the guards stole his legal materials, his soap and his toothbrush, charges that appeared to Mertens to be untrue. He asked Mertens to give him an old typewriter, but when the prison refused to allow it, Kirkpatrick concluded that it was part of a conspiracy to deny him his rights. When Kirkpatrick saw a document listing Mertens‘ title -- deputy state public defender -- he became convinced that the counselor was actually a deputy sheriff and secretly working against him. Kirkpatrick got most angry when Mertens tried to explain to him legal realities that complicated his case. In these instances, Kirkpatrick would face the wall and speak softly to ”no one in particular,“ rambling on in a ”bizarre“ manner about his pet issues. Mertens found his client ”incapable of understanding the legal concepts“ surrounding his case. ”His difficulties did not seem to result from losing a train of thought. It was more like he lost his sense of reality.“
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