A Houston man facing execution for killing his 15-year-old girlfriend, her mother and her grandfather 13 years ago asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his lethal injection scheduled for Tuesday evening.
Attorneys argued to the high court that Derrick Dewayne Charles, 32, was mentally incompetent for execution and they needed time and court-approved money for experts and investigators to pursue that claim. A second appeal argued Charles' trial court violated his constitutional rights by refusing to appoint psychiatric experts and investigators.
"The state of Texas runs an unacceptably high risk of killing a person whose mental illness is so severe he cannot comprehend why he is being executed," said Paul Mansur, Charles' lead attorney.
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The Supreme Court has ruled condemned inmates must be aware they are about to be executed and have a rational understanding of why they're being put to death.
State lawyers opposing Charles' appeals said his attorneys previously made similar arguments about his competency that the courts have rejected and that the constitutional challenge was improperly filed because it circumvented a Texas appeals court.
"He has presented absolutely nothing to suggest his competency is presently an issue," Texas Assistant Attorney General Fredericka Sargent told the Supreme Court Tuesday, emphasizing the word `presently.' "Charles presents no special or important reason in this case, and none exists."
Charles in 2003 pleaded guilty to capital murder charges for the slayings of Myiesha Bennett, her mother, Brenda Bennett, 44, and her grandfather, Obie Bennett, 77. The bodies were discovered at their Houston home in July 2002.
Charles, then 19, was arrested the next day at a motel where police also found Brenda Bennett's car. Relatives said she was not pleased with Charles' sexual relationship with her teenage daughter.
Charles had a juvenile record, was convicted as an adult of burglary, received three years in prison, served eight months and was paroled. Court records show a warrant was issued for his arrest after he met once with his parole officer, then ignored subsequent required meetings.
After Charles pleaded guilty in court to the capital murder charges, a Harris County jury had to choose between a life prison term and a death sentence.
They chose death after testimony showed Obie Bennett was beaten and strangled and Myiesha Bennett was choked with an extension cord, beaten with a box containing stereo speakers and hit with a TV. Evidence also showed Brenda Bennett was thrown into a bathtub filled with water and a plugged-in TV. When that failed to electrocute her, she was dragged through the house, raped and strangled.
Court documents indicated Charles said he smoked marijuana soaked in embalming fluid before the killings, then hallucinated while committing them.
Charles was one of at least three inmates scheduled for lethal injection over the next several weeks in the nation's most active capital punishment state. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has said it had enough pentobarbital to carry out two executions. To accommodate all three, the prison agency would need to replenish its supply, a task that has become increasingly difficult as drug makers have refused to sell their products to state corrections departments nationwide for execution use.