INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Tuesday he will not appeal a trial court’s ruling that a man sentenced to death for killing a Franklin College student in 1997 is incompetent to be executed because such an appeal likely would fail.
Michael Dean Overstreet will remain a condemned prisoner, but the death sentence will not be carried out unless he regains mental competency, Zoeller said.
St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller ruled last month that Overstreet was incompetent because he is severely mentally ill and delusional.
“My decision was based on the conclusion that Judge Miller’s determination of incompetency was done in a manner as set out by the United States Supreme Court that did not provide adequate grounds for appeal,” Zoeller said in a news release. A 2007 high court ruling that severely mentally ill prisoners cannot be executed under some circumstances.
Overstreet was sentenced to death in 2000 after being convicted in the 1997 abduction, rape and slaying of 18-year-old Kelly Eckart about 15 miles southwest of Indianapolis. Her body was found in a Brown County ravine, strangled and with a gunshot wound to the head.
Miller, who was appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court to serve as special judge in the case, concluded in a 137-page ruling that while Overstreet was competent at his trial in 2000, his mental condition has deteriorated and he currently cannot comprehend that execution would result in his death or that it’s punishment for his crimes.
Overstreet remains on death row and if his mental condition improves significantly with treatment, Zoeller’s office can petition the trial court to reconsider, find him competent again and allow the death sentence to be carried out, it said.
“We express our sympathy for all those who knew and loved Kelly Eckart, and we understand how the criminal justice system can be frustrating even as the rule of law must be followed,” Zoeller said.
Overstreet’s attorney, Kathleen Cleary, has said he was disappointed in Miller’s decision. Overstreet has said he wanted to be executed.
Eckart’s mother, Connie Sutton, does not have a published telephone number and could not be reached for comment. She told the Franklin Daily Journal after Miller’s Nov. 20 ruling that she would try to move on from it and that Overstreet no longer was worthy of her time.