Texas Execution Tests Governor Bush's Compassion on Eve of Iowa Caucuses

NAMI Appeals for Clemency for Man Suffering from Schizophrenia; Cites Virginia Precedent

Jan 19 2000

Larry Robison is scheduled to be executed on Friday, January 21st. A few days later, Iowa will cast the first votes in this year's presidential election.

In Iowa, there is no death penalty, and in the 2000 presidential race, Robison's case tests the borders of compassion.

Larry Robison suffers from schizophrenia, a biological brain disorder. His parents repeatedly sought treatment for him, before he killed five people, including his roommate, in 1982. Today, Robison's fate rests with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members all have been appointed by Governor George W. Bush, and a majority of whom must recommend clemency before the governor can commute his sentence.

In a letter today to the Texas Board, copied to Governor Bush, NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn asked that Robison's sentence be commuted to life without parole. "The tragedy of this case could have been so easily prevented had Mr. Robison received the treatment he desperately needed 18 years ago," she declared, noting that schizophrenia involves "delusions, hallucinations, and other horrifying symptoms." In Robison's case, mental health professionals told his parents he was not sufficiently dangerous to meet the state's criteria for involuntary commitment, even as he deteriorated into severe psychosis.

"Please do not compound the tragedy of his crimes and the failures of the mental health system with the cruelty of a criminal justice system that lacks compassion," Flynn said. She compared the case to that of Calvin Swann of Virginia, who also suffers from schizophrenia and never received adequate treatment, whose death sentence was commuted by Virginia's Republican Governor James Gilmore in 1999.

When Swann's sentence was commuted, NAMI praised Gilmore as "a man of honor and compassion" and expressed hope that the decision would set "a national precedent" in death penalty cases involving severe mental illness.