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  NAMI WARNS STATE AGAINST BEING "ACCESSORY TO SUICIDE"

First Ohio Execution In 35 Years Involves Man With Severe Mental Illness


Contact:
Bob Carolla 703-516-7963
For Immediate Release
12 Feb 99

Arlington, VA-The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today called on Ohio Governor Bob Taft to grant executive clemency to Wilford Berry, who on February 19th is scheduled to become the first person executed by the State of Ohio in 35 years.

Noting that Berry is diagnosed with schizophrenia, NAMI Executive Director Laurie M. Flynn advised the Governor in a letter that "it is never appropriate for a state to execute an individual who suffers from severe mental illness." Furthermore, the facts of the Berry case "strongly suggest that he is using the State of Ohio and the legal system to achieve assisted suicide."

Berry, whose childhood included physical beatings, sexual molestation and major health problems, has suffered from delusions and suicidal ideation since the age of nine. Upon his arrest for murder in 1989, he agreed to cooperate with police on the condition that the State seek the death penalty for him. He refused to assist his lawyer at trial and has refused to allow appeals of his conviction. A co-defendant, who mounted a defense in court, received a life sentence.

"In essence, the State of Ohio has allowed itself to become an accessory to his suicidal death wish," Flynn advised Taft. "Please do not allow the people of Ohio and yourself personally to be complicit to such an outrageous, morally indefensible act."

Flynn said that the fact Mr. Berry denies he suffers from mental illness and does not want it raised as a mitigating factor is "very typical" of cases of this nature; some 40 percent of all people who suffer from schizophrenia deny that they have an illness or need treatment.

"The most dramatic case with which Americans today are familiar is that of Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who ultimately received a life sentence for the deaths for which he was responsible," Flynn noted. "Mr. Berry may lack a Ph.D., as well as Mr. Kaczynski's national notoriety, but the principle is the same. He should not be executed."


February 12, 1999

Dear Governor Taft:

On behalf of more than 200,000 members of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), including approximately 10,000 in the State of Ohio, I implore you to grant executive clemency for Mr. Wilford Berry, who on February 19th is scheduled to become the first person executed by the State of Ohio in 35 years.

NAMI strongly sympathizes with the family of Mr. Charles Mitroff, whom Mr. Berry and a co-defendant killed in 1989. NAMI does not question Mr. Berry's basic responsibility for the crime, nor do we oppose the death penalty per se; however, it is never appropriate for a state to execute an individual who suffers from severe mental illness.

The facts of Mr. Berry's case also strongly suggest that he is using the State of Ohio and the legal system to achieve assisted suicide. Please do not allow the people of Ohio and yourself personally to be complicit to such an outrageous, morally indefensible act.

According to NAMI's best information, Mr Berry has been diagnosed with chronic, undifferentiated schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder. His childhood included physical beatings, sexual molestation, and major health problems. He has suffered from delusions and suicidal ideation since the age of nine. Although diagnosed by state institutions in Ohio and Texas, he never received treatment. To some degree, the death of his victim already can be regarded as a death attributable to denial of treatment of his mental illness. If Mr. Berry is executed, his death will become the second, compounding the tragic history of the case.

Upon his arrest, Mr. Berry agreed to cooperate with police on the condition that the State seek the death penalty for him. He refused to assist his lawyer at trial and refused to allow attorneys to appeal his conviction. In essence, the State of Ohio has allowed itself to become an accessory to his suicidal death wish. In contrast, his co-defendant, who mounted a defense in court, received a sentence of life imprisonment.

The fact that Mr. Berry denies that he suffers from severe mental illness and asserts that he does not want it raised as a mitigating factor is very typical for cases of this nature. Recent scientific evidence has established that 40 percent of all people who suffer from schizophrenia deny that they have an illness or need treatment. Perhaps the most dramatic case with which Americans today are familiar is that of Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who ultimately received a life sentence for the deaths for which he was responsible. Mr. Berry may lack a Ph.D., as well as Mr. Kaczynski's national notoriety, but the principle is the same. He should not be executed.

Thank you for your consideration of this appeal.

Sincerely,
Laurie M. Flynn
Executive Director
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill


 

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