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Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

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Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Famous Death Penalty Lawyer Closes the Book on His Last Capital Case

Jury box
Veteran death penalty defense attorney Jimmy Berry of Marietta closed the book on his last open capital murder case Tuesday.

It wasn't a win; it wasn't a loss. The case went to dead docket, his client committed to a psychiatric prison, declared incompetent to stand trial.

In Berry's line of work, it was the best he could do. And it got him started talking to a reporter late in the day about the 50 death penalty cases he's handled over nearly half a century.

"I'm 74. I've been doing this 47 years," Berry said. "I've tried a lot of murder cases, a lot of death penalty cases. It's sad to see the suffering of people in the victims' families, what they have to go through, and the families of the people charged."

"It's a tough doing these kinds of cases—a lot tougher than people think," he added.

Asked what drove him to choose this work, Berry paused. "I don't know. I like a challenge, I guess," he said. "I want to try to help people the best way I can."

It's not for appreciation, he said: "Generally the public doesn't like criminal defense lawyers. It's sad. You need criminal defense lawyers to make sure the system runs properly. If some things are not done properly or against the Constitution, it won't work. You've got to have both sides."

He said he still has three murder cases open, but none of them will involve the death penalty. He doesn't know if he'll take another capital case.

Tuesday's case was unusual, Berry said. After seven years of attempts to prosecute Berry's client, Jesse James Warren will go to a prison psychiatric hospital indefinitely. Warren has been charged with killing four people and seriously wounding a fifth at the Penske truck-leasing facility in Kennesaw on Jan. 12, 2010. Psychiatrists have found him incompetent to stand trial and said he refuses to take medication to control his schizophrenia and delusions. The state tried to forcibly medicate him in an attempt restore his competency, but the Georgia Supreme Court overruled that effort in 2015. Among the high court's concerns were that the meds might not work.

On Tuesday, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark signed a civil commitment order, granting a request from Berry and co-counsel Gerald Word of the Georgia Capital Defender office. Warren will be held and evaluated in much the same way he would have been if he'd been tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity. The court will re-evaluate his status annually, but Berry said he doesn't expect it to change. Warren, he said, is unable to assist in his own defense because he continues to believe the delusions that he was acting under seven years ago.

"He believes all that was a conspiracy," Berry said of Warren. Even at their last meeting on Friday, he said Warren was concerned not with defending himself but of making sure his legal team presented documentation of his delusions.

This was a textbook case for the insanity defense, if it had gone that far, Berry said. Most are not so clear, although many involve mental illness, he said. He has taken some encouragement in the development of mental health courts that have come with criminal justice reform.

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Source: Daily Report, Katheryn Hayes Tucker, August 2, 2017

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