Indiana lawmakers consider changes to death penalty law

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In just a couple months, lawmakers could make recommendations to change the state’s death penalty law.

It goes back to a bill that failed last year that would have put new restrictions on when prosecutors could seek the death penalty if the defendant suffered from mental health issues.

Indiana has executed nearly 100 Hoosiers since 1897. The last one was nearly a decade ago. Right now, 13 inmates sit on death row.

“The death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst, not people acting on false stimuli,” said Barbara Moser, the executive director at NAMI Indiana, a part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Last year, a bill failed that would have exempted defendants from the death penalty if they suffered from mental illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

Lawmakers got a science lesson Wednesday on why to possibly reconsider. Neuro-anatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor said the brains of people suffering from schizophrenia or PTSD will not necessarily process right from wrong easily.

“If I’m hearing the voice of God that’s telling me ‘I’m Jesus’ or ‘I’m Michael,’ then I am going to hold myself to the standard of that delusional system over what I’m going to hold as far as mankind is concerned,” she said.

Several mental health experts testified the state could save millions in legal costs if the cases were tried with a maximum penalty of life without parole.

There are a couple prosecutors seeking capital punishment right now.

In Marion County, Jason Brown is accused of murdering Southport Police Lt. Aaron Allan.

In Boone County, Zachariah Wright could face the death penalty for reportedly murdering a 73-year-old man and trying to rape and set his wife on fire.

“As Indiana prosecutors, we do view the death penalty as a measure that should only be imposed on the worst of the worst,” said Boone County Prosecutor Todd Meyer.

Meyer said the state’s legal system allows defendants to challenge the decision, with the courts sometimes ruling in their favor.

“I think our system works very well in this state,” he said.

Lawmakers have their opinions, too. State Rep. Thomas Washburne, a Republican from Inglefield, said to be exempt from the death penalty, the defendant should be diagnosed with psychotic features or losing contact with reality in addition to the mental  illness.

State Rep. Ed DeLaney, a Democrat from Indianapolis, said the death penalty should be abolished because it is so expensive.