Death Watch: One Inmate Gets Reprieve, Another Granted Hearing

Is Larry Hatten sane enough to die?

Death Watch: One Inmate Gets Reprieve, Another Granted Hearing

A court in Nueces County has pulled from the calendar next week's execution of Larry Hatten, originally slated for Oct. 16. At issue is whether Hatten is actually competent enough to face death.

On Sept. 19, 1995, Hatten broke into Isaac Robinson's apartment, kicked open a bedroom door, and fired multiple rounds from a .357 handgun into the bed, intending to kill Robinson in retaliation for a series of escalating arguments among several rival drug dealers. What Hatten didn't know was that Robinson was not in his bed, but Robinson's girlfriend Tabitha Thompson and the couple's 5-year-old son Isaac Jackson were. Thompson survived the attack, but Jackson was killed. Hatten was later picked up by police driving around in a car, covered in blood. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die by early February 1996.

Larry Hatten
Larry Hatten

Hatten subsequently appealed, arguing that his trial lawyers were deficient in not investigating the crime scene and failing to prepare Hatten to testify; he also argued that his trial was tainted by a juror who'd lied about his own drug addiction. Those appeals were denied; now, however, Hatten's execution date has been pulled because of a question regarding Hatten's sanity. Kenneth McGuire, a Houston-based attorney who represents Hatten, said his client has suffered from mental illness for more than a decade and has at times been forcibly medicated while incarcerated.

In an unrelated case, the Texas Court of Crim­inal Appeals last month ruled that the state did not have the legal right to force death row inmate Steven Staley to be forcibly medicated in order to make him competent for execution, as a Fort Worth court had ordered. Notably, however, the CCA did not rule on whether the Texas Constitution would absolutely forbid the execution of someone forcibly medicated. At press time, Hatten's case was pending in Nueces County.

Also in death penalty news, the 5th Cir­cuit this week granted inmate Jeffery Wood, sentenced as a party to the 1996 killing of friend Kris Keeran during a botched robbery of a gas station in Kerrville, another chance to challenge the state's right to put him to death. Wood did not fire the shot that killed Keeran, nor was he inside the station at the time Danny Reneau, another friend, fired the fatal shot. But under Texas' law of parties, Wood was held responsible for a crime he should have anticipated.

At issue now, however, is not Wood's culpability but, like Hatten, his competency to be executed. Wood, who was set for execution in 2008, argued in a hearing in federal court that he should not be executed because he suffers from an anti-social personality disorder and thus is not competent under the law. Although a federal district court judge disagreed, the 5th Circuit this week said the facts of the situation should be reviewed. The case has been sent back to district court for a hearing in front of a different judge.

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