Missouri executed Cecil Clayton on March 17. A 74 year old man, who as a result of an industrial accident lost significant portions of his brain, Cecil stands as an example of the fundamental flaws in our system of capital punishment. In 1972, a projectile shot from a working saw shattered the frontal lobe of his brain. This area controls judgment, intellectual functions, and emotional adjustment. Doctors responding to his injury were forced to cut away surrounding dead and damaged tissue in the executive center of his brain. The loss of so much vital brain tissue deeply altered Cecil’s behavior and understanding of the world. He began to experience paranoid delusions, schizophrenia, and organic personality changes. Furthermore, his intellectual capacity plummeted. Prior to the accident, Cecil possessed an IQ of approximately 99; prior to his death, his IQ was 71. Pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in numerous cases against executions for persons with severe mental illness or intellectual disabilities.
Missouri law states that “no person condemned to death shall be executed if as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks capacity to understand the nature and purpose of the punishment about to be imposed upon him.” Mo.R.S. 552.060.1. Yet the process for determining capacity relies solely on individuals within the correctional system, with no opportunity for Cecil’s representatives to question those judgments. Experts have found that Cecil lacks the capacity to understand judicial proceedings or aid in his defense.