The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2014-01-31/skirting-the-constitution/

Skirting the Constitution

By Jordan Smith, January 31, 2014, News

If the state of Texas goes through with the planned execution on Feb. 5 of Suzanne Basso, it will be executing a delusional woman with scant understanding of why she's to be put to death, attorney Winston Cochran Jr. argues in a request for sentence commutation filed this month with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Indeed, Cochran argues that evidence of Basso's mental health issues was never provided to the jurors who sentenced her to die in 1999 – because no mitigation investigation was ever done and no mitigation evidence was provided to jurors. "Executing Basso would bring discredit upon the Texas judicial system by demonstrating that constitutional protections necessary in death penalty cases are not protected," he wrote in the BPP filing.

Given the BPP's history, it is not a stretch to imagine that Basso will be denied clemency or a reprieve in order to allow Cochran to pursue additional appeals – since 2007, the BPP has recommended clemency just four times out of the 129 death cases it has considered.

Basso was condemned for the gruesome beating death in 1998 of Louis "Buddy" Musso. According to the state, Basso lured Musso, a 59-year-old intellectually disabled man, to Texas from New Jersey by promising to marry him and then, with five other people – including her son – abused Musso, beatings that left his body covered in bruises from head to toe, before he was finally killed by a series of brutal blows to the head, as part of a scheme to collect insurance money and Musso's other assets.

Cochran has argued that there is no evidence that Basso was the one who actually killed Musso and that because the jury was not asked to find that she was a party to the crime – a theory under which all actors share culpability – her conviction is invalid. Several courts have denied Basso's appeals, including a district court ruling Jan. 15 in Houston, which found that Basso is competent to be executed.

Basso will be the eighth woman put to death in Texas since the mid-1800s, the second inmate executed this year, and the 510th executed since reinstatement of the death penalty.

Copyright © 2014 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.