JACKSON, Miss.—A Mississippi judge will decide whether a death row inmate who says he wants to be executed is mentally competent to waive all his appeals.
The state Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the examination in the case of David Cox.
Cox wrote to Mississippi Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. in August saying he wanted to fire his lawyers, give up all his appeals and have the state Supreme Court set his execution date.
“I seek in earnest to (waive) all my appeals immediately, I seek to be executed as I do here, this day, stand on MS death row a guilty man worthy of death—please grant me this plea,” Cox wrote in an Aug. 16 letter .
Cox pleaded guilty to shooting his wife Kim in 2010 in the Union County town of Sherman, raping her daughter in front of her, and watching Kim Cox die as police negotiators and relatives pleaded for her life. He also pleaded guilty to seven other crimes without making a bargain with prosecutors that precluded the death penalty. A jury sentenced him to death.
Cox’s lawyers argue that he is mentally ill and isn’t competent to waive his appeals, and that it’s unconstitutional for the state to execute him.
“There is no reliable evidence that Mr. Cox has a free or unrestrained will necessary to lodge a permanent, voluntary waiver of his right to continue pursuing post-conviction remedies,” wrote Benjamin H. McGee III of the state Office of Post-Conviction Counsel.
McGee has filed a fresh petition with Mississippi’s justices seeking a new sentencing hearing. The lawyer says Cox’s trial lawyers didn’t adequately lay out the history of abuse that Cox endured as a child, including poverty, neglect, parental abandonment, chronic exposure to pornography and witnessing his father sexually abuse his sister. Cox’s sister, in a sworn statement, said he dropped out of school and huffed gasoline “all day,” later becoming addicted to methamphetamine. Lawyers argued the substance abuse permanently injured his brain and that it would be unconstitutional to execute him, just as the Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to execute someone with mental disabilities.
“Mr. Cox’s rage, violence and impulse control problems are product of brain dysfunction, not a reflection of choice or character. He has a severe psychopathology—that is, a severe mental disorder or mental illness—but he is not a psychopath,” Forensic psychologist Robert Stanulis wrote in a report for the defense.
Mississippi hasn’t executed anyone since 2012, amid legal disputes over lethal injection procedures and difficulty procuring execution drugs.