The Catholic University of America

The Catholic University of America Law Review


"The Death Penalty and Mental Illness"

Wednesday, January 26, 2005, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm

Walter Slowinski Courtroom, 2nd floor

The Columbus School of Law

3600 John McCormack Rd. NW

Washington, D.C. 20064

Over the past thirty years, the number of people with mental illness and other mental disabilities on death row has grown steadily. It is estimated that five to ten percent of people on death row have a serious mental illness. Although increasing attention has been given to the issues of executing legally insane and mentally retarded people, some questions about mentally ill people on death row continue to go largely unanswered. Recent cases, such as that of Charles Singleton, who suffered from schizophrenia and was medicated so that he would be competent for execution and that of Kelsey Patterson, who was executed despite a 5-1 vote from a parole board for clemency based on clear evidence of mental illness, demonstrate the need for in-depth discussion of this issue.

Despite the serious nature of this topic, there is no clear consensus on how to handle the complexity of mental illness and its effect on people who have been sentenced to death. For example, state legislatures have been reluctant to discuss mental illness and the death penalty, as some suggest they should. Others, however, have theorized that positive predictions of "future dangerousness" justify the execution of mentally ill death row inmates. Still others believe that a perceived link between mental illness and violence is erroneous. With this Symposium, we hope to add to the ongoing discussion on this important topic.


8:30 a.m. Welcome

William F. Fox, Jr.

Dean and Professor of Law

The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law

8:45 a.m. Introduction

Richard Dieter

Executive Director, The Death Penalty Information Center

9:05 a.m. Principal Addresses:

Ronald Honberg

Director of Legal Affairs, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

Christopher Slobogin Professor of Law, Affiliate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Florida

Richard Bonnie

Director, University of Virginia Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy

Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D.

New York University School of Medicine, Psychiatry Division

11:05 a.m. Break

11:25 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Colloquy Discussion and Question and Answer


Ronald Tabak, Moderator

Co-Chair, ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, Death Penalty Committee

For further information, contact:

Stephanie Pisanelli (

Shayna Bloom (