- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

I told him it was law logic an artificial system of human reasoning, exclusively used in courts of justice, but good for nothing anywhere else.

John Quincy Adams to John Marshall


Surely only in a court of law could it be seriously argued that the state should be able to cure a condemned man of his psychosis so he could be of sound mind when executed.

There's a word for that kind of logic: crazy.

For 22 years now, through appeal after appeal, Charles Laverne Singleton has sat on Arkansas' death row, entertaining delusions when taken off his medicine and sometimes even when medicated.

At times he refused to take the drugs he needs, knowing what the effect could be: He'd be cured in time to be killed. That crazy he isn't.

At other times, he has taken the drug rather than go on living with his demons, preferring to die sane than live mentally tormented.

But most of the time, his reasoning hasn't been any easier to figure out than the law's.

This case now has reached the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which is also showing signs of a split personality. A three-judge panel of that court has barred the state from executing its prisoner/patient, by a vote of 2 to 1. Next, the whole court may be convened to consider his fate.

In a ruling almost as bizarre as it was unanimous, this state's Supreme Court had ruled 6-1 that, yes, the people of Arkansas, in our wisdom and humanity, and with every regard for the technicalities involved, might drug Charles L. Singleton until he was fit for execution.

Here was a decision that could have been written by Franz Kafka. Or maybe by Joseph Heller of "Catch 22" fame.

Their honors explained that the state had every right to medicate the prisoner if its aim was to return him to good health. After all, the state is his guardian while he's in its custody.

As for what happens to the prisoner after he's been restored to sanity for example, being tied to a gurney and injected with a fatal poison till dead well, that's not the state's lookout, is it?

So long as due process had been observed in full and all the technicalities respected, the court had no objection to executing aforesaid patient. Its logic was flawless, if you could bear to think about it.

Only one member of the state's highest court, Justice Ray Thornton, dissented from this madness, perhaps because he is learned in more than the law.

A former congressman and university president, and still a scholar with wide-ranging interests, Justice Thornton is the sort of thinker who can step outside the law occasionally and wonder if it makes sense.

In this case, Justice Thornton could not see how "forcible medication that enables a mentally ill prisoner to be executed can be in the inmate's medical interest."

Neither could a majority of this three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit, which speaks well of two-thirds of it. But how meet the demands of law logic?

The two judges in the majority Gerald W. Heaney and Myron H. Bright simply extended the injunction against the prisoner's execution permanently rather than hand down some new, history-making dictum. They decided this was a unique case, and so adopted a unique remedy. They reduced the prisoner's sentence to "life imprisonment without the possibility of parole," doing both justice and mercy, if not very clearly.

If such a decision offends the letter of the law, it is in accord with its spirit.

The dissenter in this case Chief Judge Roger Wollman preferred clarity, even if it was the clarity of death. He wanted to send the case back still again to the district court in hopes of reaching a logical decision, even thought it might prove only law logic.

If the chief judge has his way, Charles Singleton might yet be sufficiently medicated to render him of sound mind when he is put to death by the people of Arkansas, Lord have mercy on his soul.

And on ours.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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