Death Watch: Generations of Madness

Charles death penalty raises question of mental illness

Death Watch: Generations of Madness

Next up on Texas' execution schedule – May 12 – is 32-year-old Derrick Charles.

On July 2, 2002, then-19-year-old Charles beat, strangled, sexually assaulted, and eventually killed his 15-year-old girlfriend Myiesha Bennett, her mother Brenda Bennett, and her grandfather Obie Lee Bennett in their Houston home, for reasons Charles never could explain. He pled guilty, and was sentenced to death May 14, 2003. At trial, his attorneys did very little to help Charles save his life. According to petitions for writs of habeas corpus filed at the state and federal levels, his trial attorneys Connie Wil­liams and Sid Crowley called only four witnesses, and did no mitigation investigation whatsoever. Crowley in particular did "virtually nothing to prepare the punishment phase of Derrick's trial," wrote Randall Sorrels, who represented Charles during a petition for relief in 2009. Crowley reportedly billed only 15 hours on the case: 10 to read the prosecution's file, five to prep testimony for one witness, and zero for mitigating evidence.

Those petitions also pointed to serious hardships Charles faced as a child growing up in Houston. He was born prematurely to an allegedly schizophrenic, unemployable mother and a father who left before he was born. His stepfather was an alcoholic abuser who regularly violently assaulted Charles' mother. Charles grew up in extreme poverty, the petitions reported, and was the product of a "multi-generational pattern of severe mental illness." He was intermittently hospitalized (and sent to psychiatric facilities) throughout his childhood, and tested at the second grade level of reading when he was 16.

Charles had a petition for rehearing denied in Jan­uary 2014 and a petition for writ of certiorari denied by the U.S. Supreme Court last Octo­ber. Still at issue now is his competency and ability to understand his eventual execution. His attorney Paul Mansur told the Chron­icle Monday that federal HIPAA laws (relevant to his client's family's medical history) bar him from speaking specifically about recent efforts, but that he had plans to argue Charles' incompetence though certain filings scheduled after this story goes to press.

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