Cecil Clayton faces execution on March 17th unless his lawyers can convince that State of Missouri that Mr. Clayton is suffering from a a mental illness. In 1972, Mr. Clayton received a Traumatic Brain Injury in a sawmill accident which resulted in the loss of about 20% of his frontal lobe. Mr. Clayton was found after the accident to experience violent impulses and extreme paranoia and to be schizophrenic. He was charged with killing a policeman who was sitting in his car watching the home of Mr. Clayton’s ex-girlfriend who called the police with concerns for her own safety. Mr. Clayton was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. Now, at 74, Mr. Clayton has an IQ of 71. In 2014 a forensic psychiatrist cleared him for execution, yet Mr. Clayton cannot tell you about the trial, name the judge from the case and his subsequent appeal or tell you the names of his medications.
Mr. Clayton fits the profile of Death Row inmates interviewed by Dorothy Lewis, MD. In her famous study, Dr. Lewis found that in the group of 15 Death Row inmates that she interviewed all has severe brain injuries and other signs of neurological disease and illness. Most had histories of child abuse. Dr. Lewis’ study has guided clinicians to examine the neurological status of the U.S. prison population with alarming results. There is a very high incidence of brain injury in both men and women who are behind bars and Death Row inmates represent a group with an extremely high likelihood of having had a severe brain injury. While most often individuals with brain injury are judged competent to stand trial, why isn’t brain injury taken into account at the time of sentencing? Its not that people with brain injury are more likely to commit murder, but a person with a severe frontal lobe injury may have difficulty with impulse control and anger. Coupled with significant mental health issues like schizophrenia and paranoia, the person may be at risk for a loss of control which results in harm or death to another individual. Yet, they cannot use their brain injury in their defense in most states.
Can Mr. Clayton’s lawyers convince the courts that their client is mentally ill? Can Mr. Clayton even understand his potential fate? There are indications that he doesn’t and like one of people with a brain injury who went to their execution a few years ago, will he ask his jailers to keep the piece of pecan pie from his last meal for him to finish later.