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Bipolar News

February 1, 2006

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Amnesty International says U.S. to execute hundreds of mentally ill inmates

AP Worldstream; 1/31/2006

Dateline: LONDON
Hundreds of mentally ill death row inmates in the United States should have their sentences commuted, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

The human rights group said an estimated 10 percent of the 3,400 people on death row today have conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Similarly, some 10 percent of the more than 1,000 inmates executed in the last 30 years suffered from some form of mental illness, the London-based group said.

"Amnesty International is opposed to the death penalty in all cases but imposing it on the mentally ill is truly disgraceful," said the charity's British spokesman Mike Blakemore.

"Equally disgraceful is the forced medication of those that develop mental illness on death row precisely so that they can be executed."

The execution of a prisoner who is mentally ill at the time of a crime is outlawed in Connecticut. Likewise, a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawed the execution of the mentally ill _ those who are incapable of understanding the meaning of, or reason for, their execution.

In 2002, the court ruled that executing mentally retarded people _ generally defined as having an IQ of 70 or lower _ was unconstitutionally cruel. But many states still execute prisoners with mental illnesses.

In its report, Amnesty said many trials do not hear evidence of a defendant's mental illness, and U.S. prosecutors exploit public ignorance or fear about mental illness by arguing that the "flat" or "unremorseful" demeanor of mentally ill defendants was further grounds for imposing death sentences.

It said defendants with mental conditions had sometimes been allowed to conduct their own defenses, waive their rights to appeal and "volunteer" to be executed.

The report highlighted the case of Scott Panetti, a murder defendant in Texas, who in 1995 acted as his own attorney despite a history of mental illness.

Panetti dressed as cowboy in the courtroom before mounting a rambling and chaotic defense, described by witnesses as a "circus," a "joke" and a "mockery," the report said.

Panetti, convicted of killing his parents-in-law in 1992, was sentenced to death and remains on death row.

In another case, Varnell Weeks _ who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, hallucinations and delusions _ was executed in Alabama in 1995.

Amnesty said he appeared at a competency hearing with a domino on a string attached to his shaved head, and rambled about serpents, "cybernetics," albinos, Egyptians and the Bible.

Copyright 2006, AP News All Rights Reserved

Diocese caught off guard by furor

The Record (Bergen County, NJ); 1/31/2006; JOHN CHADWICK, STAFF WRITER

The Paterson Diocese, facing questions about why a defrocked priest and admitted child molester is living quietly and unsupervised in a residential neighborhood, promised Monday to review the matter and consider whether it needs to take additional steps to monitor rogue ex-priests.

"I believe we do have a moral obligation to look into this," said the Rev. James T. Mahoney, the vicar general and No. 2 official in the Roman Catholic diocese. "I know of no family that would be comfortable with a sexual abuser living near them."

But as the diocese mulled the issue, some of James T. Hanley's victims began taking matters into their own hands. Mahoney's statement came one day after the victims blanketed Hanley's Paterson neighborhood with leaflets describing his case. They said Monday that was just the beginning.

"He will be looking over his shoulder as long as he is still alive," Ray Skettini said. "Someone has to do it. The church has washed their hands of this."

Hanley said Monday that all the attention including an angry confrontation with the victims near his apartment Sunday had prompted him to consider moving.

"No matter what I do, I'm dead in the water," Hanley said. "They're going to come after me."

The 69-year-old Paterson native said he spent most of Monday "just wandering around," away from his home, including a visit to a park in Hunterdon County.

Hanley admitted in a sworn statement that he molested at least 15 boys from 1968 to 1982 at parishes in Mendham, Pompton Plains and Parsippany and was removed from the priesthood nearly three years ago.

Because victims waited years before coming forward, the statute of limitations barred prosecution, so he was never charged and did not have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

But a news article in The Record, in which Hanley told his story publicly for the first time, prompted the victims to go to Hanley's neighborhood Sunday to warn people that a sex offender was living among them.

While they were doing so, Hanley showed up, sparking a tense showdown.

He said Monday that he "was moved by the Holy Spirit" to confront his victims.

Despite his admissions, Hanley insists some of the accusations against him have been exaggerated. He said he molested about 12 boys, but was sick with alcoholism and bipolar disorder. He says he hasn't molested anyone since the early 1980s.

"I feel really at peace with what happened Sunday," Hanley said. "I had to let them know what was on my mind."

But the showdown only infuriated the victims.

Skettini, for example, said it convinced him Hanley was still dangerous.

"At first, I was wondering whether we were going too far," said Skettini, who said he was molested as a 12-year-old at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Pompton Plains. "But when he showed up, he certainly showed me this is what exactly has to happen."

The 49-year-old Sussex County man added: "He still has that charisma. And if somebody doesn't know about him, he could find a way to get children on his lap."

Victims say the diocese should have monitored Hanley after removing him from the priesthood in 2003. Church officials conceded Monday that they did not know Hanley had recently moved from South Paterson to another part of the city.

"Our first inkling was watching him on TV," Mahoney said.

The victims also lambasted the church for paying Hanley a stipend of around $2,100 a month. The diocese questioned Monday whether that amount was accurate, but Hanley provided The Record with a 2003 letter from church officials promising him $2,060 a month.

Mark Serrano, who said he was abused for seven years by Hanley, called on Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli to meet with residents of Hanley's neighborhood and to require Hanley to undergo periodic evaluations.

"We are talking about an admitted child molester who takes a paycheck from the bishop," Serrano said. "Isn't there a minimum standard of responsibility here?"

Serratelli and other church officials said the diocese has no legal standing because Hanley is no longer a priest and doesn't live on church property. They argue the church can't act as a law enforcement officer.

"The obligation for any surveillance would fall to the state and not the diocese, because Jim Hanley has been severed from the diocese of Paterson," Serratelli said in a prepared statement.

Nevertheless, by day's end, Mahoney said the diocese had decided to rethink the matter. He said the diocese would soon hold discussions with priests, its lawyer and the board that reviews accusations against priests.

"We have to be so careful that we protect the rights of everyone," Mahoney said. "Both the victims and the accused."

An official with the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office said the Hanley case is one of many cases that fall through the cracks. The statute of limitations on sex assault already was revoked in 1996, but that action didn't affect older cases.

"I think this case highlights the limitations of the sex offender registry program," said Joseph Del Russo, chief assistant prosecutor. "The requirement for community notification is you have to have been convicted."

Del Russo said victims could petition the Legislature to amend Megan's Law to force offenders like Hanley to register.

He said it would be highly unusual if the diocese, or any other employer, sought to monitor former employees.

"You don't hear of Verizon or Merrill Lynch having any obligation," he said. "It would open a real Pandora's box of liability for employers."


Copyright 2006 Bergen Record Corp. All rights reserved.

'Now I have help': New judicial program helps mentally ill reconnect with life.

The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, New Mexico) (via Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News); 1/30/2006

Byline: Jason Auslander

Jan. 30--For most of his 49 years, Eddie Armijo was caught in a revolving door all too familiar to those who work in the criminal-justice system.

"I've been in prison and jails mostly all my life," he said in an interview recently. "I've gone through life not understanding what was happening." Now, however, thanks to a newly established program at the First Judicial District called Mental Health Court, the lifelong Santa Fe resident is experiencing something new: a regular life. Armijo -- who calls himself "borderline retarded" -- has an apartment of his own, is free of drugs and alcohol and has re-established links with his family. "Now I have help," he said. "Before I never had help, never. I was always on my own." State District Judge Michael Vigil, who has known Armijo for 15 years, was instrumental in setting up the district's Mental Health Court, which began in October. He described the court as a highly structured program that monitors participants on a daily basis and provides substance-abuse counseling, mental-health counseling, random drug-and-alcohol testing, and vocational training, when possible. In addition, the Mental Health Court brings together disparate agencies that deal with the mentally ill, including law-enforcement, probation and parole officers, public defenders, prosecutors, and health-care providers, Vigil said. The court is based on the Drug Court model -- a long-term, highly supervised program designed to keep addicts off drugs and out of jail -- and has been a trend in the criminal-justice system for five or six years, he said. In Albuquerque, the Second Judicial District's Mental Health Court has been functioning for about three years, Vigil said. That court, which is much larger, refers patients to The University of New Mexico's mental-health clinic and has in-patient facilities where participants can be hospitalized if necessary, he said. When Vigil and others were thinking of starting Santa Fe's Mental Health Court, one of their main problems was funding, he said. But officials at the Albuquerque Mental Health Court told them to "just do it and the funding will come," Vigil said. So, using funds from the Drug Court budget, that's exactly what they did. The court's main function is to halt the unproductive cycle that often begins when a mentally ill person is put on probation and ordered to take medication to combat the illness, he said. What often happens is that the person stops taking the medication after a month or two, then commits another crime, which violates conditions of probation, and lands in jail.

While in jail, the person usually receives no treatment for his or her illness and continues to deteriorate to the point where they are no longer competent. Once competency is questioned, the person must be sent to the state mental hospital in Las Vegas, N.M., for evaluation, Vigil said. After that, the person is put back in jail -- where they begin to deteriorate again -- or put back on probation. Then the cycle begins again. And that, Vigil said, is "just not effective." In Armijo's case, for example, Lupe Sanchez, the director of both the Mental Health Court and the Drug Court, calls him daily to remind of him of any appointments he might have and to prompt him to take his medication. At that point, Sanchez can also check to see if Armijo is experiencing any special problems that need to be addressed. "I think they like the structure," Sanchez said. "Having someone to talk to is important." If there are no setbacks along the way, the court program takes about 14 months to complete, compared to between nine and 12 months for Drug Court. The program currently has four participants and five total spots, though Sanchez plans to apply for grants to fully fund and expand it. A participant must be recommended to the program, and a panel that includes many representatives from those disparate agencies makes a decision on who is accepted. A prospective participant cannot have a history of violence, Vigil said. Angela Velez -- another Mental Health Court participant -- suffers from bipolar disorder and has been in and out of prison for the last 10 years. During an interview earlier this month -- when she'd only been in the program for about a month -- Velez, 38, credited the court with helping her stay focused. "I actually look forward to coming to see Judge Vigil," she said. "He makes me feel good about myself." Armijo -- the first person to participate in the program -- said he used to live with his father but was always afraid he would be thrown out of the house. And when he wasn't living at home, he was in jail, which he said he didn't mind. "I used to love it," Armijo said of his time behind bars. "I didn't worry about nothing in jail." But now that he has been in the program for a few months and lives in his own one-bedroom apartment, life is "100 percent better," he said. "I gained 35 pounds," Armijo said. "I'm not drinking or doing drugs, but I'm eating." In fact, on Jan. 6, Armijo earned a certificate of achievement for completing the first phase of the Mental Health Court program. He now has regular contact with six of his 10 children -- some of whom go to his apartment and cook for him -- and said his father and brother have told him they're proud of him for sticking to the program. "It's exciting," Vigil said. "These people are re-establishing relationships with families that had been destroyed." Vigil said he enjoys working with the Mental Health Court participants partially because they are honest and upfront with him. "They're so appreciative of the attention they're getting," he said. "They don't want to disappoint you as a judge." And even when the inevitable setback occurs, Vigil said, he stays optimistic. Recently, Velez tested positive for cocaine and, because she had violated her probation, returned to jail temporarily. But Vigil gave her credit for turning herself in to authorities. "She's never done that before," he said, adding that he expected that she will soon be readmitted to the Mental Health Court program. "Studies indicate that many of these people have caring families who are burned out," Vigil said. "We become their family. We're not burned out on them yet." Contact Jason Auslander at 995-3877 or

Copyright (c) 2006, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.),

(213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail

COPYRIGHT 2006 The Santa Fe New Mexican

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