Paul Reid believes a secret government agency uses high-tech surveillance to record every word he says. He’s convinced his attorneys are part of a conspiracy to inflict psychologica l torture by brainwashing him to believe he had sex with his mother. Then there are the tactile hallucinations, like the one Reid describes as a prickly sensation around his genitals that he perceives as an attempt by the government to turn him into a homosexual.
After interviewing Reid over two days last year, the state’s own forensic psychologist determined the death row inmate was delusional, and therefore unable rationally to choose to drop his appeals and voluntarily be put to death. It was an unexpected blow to the state’s case, and prosecutors had little choice but to concur with their expert’s opinion that Reid was mentally incompetent. A federal judge agreed and appointed his sister legal guardian to pursue his appeals.
But a year later—this time in a Davidson County courtroom—lawyers for the state Attorney General’s Office again are trying to prove Reid, 49, is capable of handling his own legal affairs.
“The state cannot…argue in this court that Reid is competent while conceding the issue in other courts,” Reid’s lawyers write in a recent motion asking Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn to find their client incompetent.
Lawyers for Reid claim the state’s previous concession should apply to all of their client’s intertwined legal affairs, and that because the matter already has been settled in federal court it should not be revisited in state court. But Blackburn disagreed and ordered yet another hearing to determine whether Reid can abandon his appeals and choose to be executed.
Reid was convicted in three separate trials for a murder spree in 1997 that left seven Nashville area fast food workers dead. Because he was sentenced to death in three trials (two in Nashville and one in Clarksville), each case is at a different stage in the appeals process. On two occasions—once in 2003 and again in 2006—Reid was within hours of execution after dropping his appeals, but in both instances he received last-minute stays to assess his competency.
Just days before he was set to be put to death last June, Reid sent a letter to the Scene in response to a request for an interview. His bizarre ramblings included the following passage:
“I’ve accepted the execution because I’m unable to get ANYONE to believe the military scientist [sic] have intruded my life, illegal, since Feb. 1985, tortured my ears, mind and body, hourly, robbed me of any identity, as an individual, and, made my existence since Feb. 1985 a miserable nightmare hell. They have attempted to kill me since 1987, to hush me up, with seven (7) homicides against me. I declare they killed me this time.”
The latest competency hearing began July 31 and included the testimony of only one witness, Dr. William Bernet, a forensic psychiatrist and expert for the state. During past hearings, Bernet testified that Reid has “made up psychological illnesses” and “pretended to have delusions.” Although the Scene has attempted to obtain a video recording of the most recent proceedings, the judge has so far refused the request.
Following Bernet’s testimony, Blackburn adjourned the competency hearing until Sept. 4, when a defense expert is scheduled to testify.
If Blackburn ultimately determines Reid is competent to dismiss his post-conviction appeals, a family member is expected to try to intervene on his behalf once again. Meanwhile, an execution date is set for Jan. 3, 2008, in connection with Reid’s conviction in the murder of three McDonald’s employees. In that case, an appeal currently is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Given the complexities of Reid’s case—and the fact that it’s unusual for one defendant to face numerous death sentences stemming from three separate trials—observers say it’s unclear whether the outcome of the latest competency hearing in Davidson County will have any bearing on the upcoming execution date.
Though Reid has twice been on the brink of death, and another execution date looms, Stacy Rector, director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, is hopeful he will be spared. “I believe if the courts listen to the experts who are looking at his case and evaluating his mental status, then he will continue to be found incompetent. I don’t see how he will ever be found competent to be executed.”
That’s not to say he should be out on the streets, Rector says, adding that he’s clearly a sick man who needs mental health treatment.
What’s most concerning to Rector is that the state continues to spend so much time and money trying to execute Reid, even though one of their own experts found him incompetent.
“It is my opinion, to a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, that Mr. Reid is suffering from an acute exacerbation of his delusional disorder. His mental status is clearly worse than when I examined him in 1999,” forensic psychologist Daniel Martell wrote in August 2006 following an in-depth interview with Reid. Martell—who at the time was being paid by the state—further explained that a severe psychotic condition made Reid “unable to make a rational choice with respect to continuing or abandoning further litigation.”
Martell suggested Reid doesn’t want to pursue his appeals because he wants to put an end to the psychological torture he believes he’s endured since 1985, and because he’s convinced his lawyers are in on the conspiracy.
Over the years, MRI and PET scans have revealed Reid is suffering from severe brain damage. Specifically, the scans show the left temporal lobe, which controls language and behavior, is shrunken and distorted, probably the result of a childhood accident that cracked his skull, causing him to leak brain fluid.
Finally, Martell recommended Reid receive mental health treatment to relieve his symptoms, although he acknowledges this particular delusional disorder is one of the most difficult to treat.
As a result, the Attorney General’s Office withdrew its objection to Reid’s incompetence claim in that case, explaining to U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell on Aug. 24, 2006, “We are doing so on the basis of a psychological examination that was conducted by our retained expert…which resulted in a finding by our expert...that Mr. Reid is presently incompetent to make a rational decision to waive his capital appeals."But the state's concession was short-lived, and according to prosecutors, so was Reid's incompetence.
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