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Death Defying

With the scheduled execution of convicted murderer Horace Edwards Kelly less than a week away, his attorneys are arguing in a Marin County courtroom that their client is not sane enough to be put to death.

In California’s first pre-execution sanity trial in decades, attorneys pleaded for the life of Kelly, whose story was detailed in the Weekly last week. During the course of Kelly’s imprisonment for the murders of an 11-year-old boy and two women 14 years ago, dozens of psychiatrists — hired by both the state and the defense — have found Kelly psychotic, schizophrenic and not sane enough to be executed. School and other records dating back to his childhood document a history of both abuse and mental illness. But in a blow to Kelly’s case, one of two psychiatrists who in March had declared Kelly insane, this week reversed that opinion based on a follow-up pre-execution exam. Also, a psychiatrist appointed by Judge William McGivern has apparently found Kelly legally sane. A second San Quentin examiner maintained his opinion of Kelly’s insanity, while a third did not make a finding either way. A 1986 Supreme Court ruling held that a person cannot be put to death unless he understands that he is to be executed and why. Kelly, who sat quietly in court dressed in a light blue shirt, his long hair and beard matted, is said by his attorneys to believe that the prison is a vocational school and that he has not been released because of a bureaucratic mix-up. Kelly "has no understanding of any of this," says his attorney Richard Mazer. "There is no way he can be legally executed." If Kelly is executed as scheduled on April 14, he will be the first person since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1978 to be put to death in California without his case ever having been considered in federal court. He never got that hearing because his previous attorneys failed to meet a new deadline for filing writs of habeas corpus. On Monday, the L.A. federal public defender filed two such writs for Kelly and asked to be appointed to his case. The appeals are viewed as a long shot.


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