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US court executes inmate who attorneys say is brain damaged

world Updated: Mar 18, 2015 09:31 IST

Missouri's oldest death row inmate was executed on Tuesday night for the 1996 shooting death of a sheriff's deputy after the state's governor and the US Supreme Court denied last-minute appeals to spare his life. Attorneys for 74-year-old Cecil Clayton had argued that Clayton has brain damage from a 1972 sawmill accident and worsening dementia.

Here's a look at the case:

The crime
Clayton was convicted of fatally shooting Christopher Castetter, a sheriff's deputy in rural Missouri. Castetter, then 29 and a father of three, was investigating a suspicious vehicle near Cassville in 1996 when he was shot in the forehead while he was in his car. His vehicle was found against a tree with the engine racing and wheels spinning. Castetter died at a hospital the next day.

Inmate's claims
Clayton's attorneys argue that he suffers from lingering effects of a 1972 sawmill accident in which a piece of wood shot through his skull. Surgeons removed about 8 percent of Clayton's brain, including one-fifth of the frontal lobe that governs impulse control and judgment.

His lawyers say Clayton has an IQ of 71 and that psychiatric evaluations indicate he doesn't understand the significance of his scheduled execution or the reasons for it, making him ineligible for execution under state and federal law.

Last minute appeals
Clayton's attorneys appealed the case to the US Supreme Court and asked the Missouri governor for clemency, insisting that the inmate's deteriorating mental health has left him convinced his conviction was a plot against him. They argued that Clayton also believes God will rescue him at the last minute, "after which time he will travel the country playing the piano and preaching the gospel."

In part because of his dementia, his attorneys said in their appeal, the lethal injection would or would likely cause Clayton "excruciating or tortuous pain and needless suffering" and allow the state to use him as an experiment of its execution protocol on someone with severe brain damage.

The state countered by saying Clayton would be executed "rapidly and painlessly" in accordance with the constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

A divided Supreme Court denied the appeal Tuesday evening, saying four justices would have granted a stay.

The office of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement Tuesday evening that he had denied Clayton's clemency request.

Legal setbacks
The Missouri Supreme Court declined to intervene on Saturday in a 4-3 ruling. The court's majority concluded there's no evidence that Clayton, despite his brain injury, isn't capable of understanding his circumstances.

The dissenting opinion countered that Clayton's attorneys "presented reasonable grounds to believe his overall mental condition has deteriorated and he is intellectually disabled."

Similar cases
Clayton's claims of mental incompetence mirror those of Ricky Ray Rector, who was executed in 1992 in Arkansas for fatally shooting a police officer. His attorneys failed to sway then-Gov. Bill Clinton that he had been left brain damaged by a self-inflicted bullet wound prior to his arrest.

Missouri executions
If carried out, Clayton's execution would be Missouri's second this year. The state executed a record 10 people in 2014.