Defense: Killer not fit to be executed

Death penalty called unjust for mentally ill

Clemency request being considered

Along with his petition before the Indiana Supreme Court, Arthur P. Baird also is asking the Indiana Parole Board to recommend that Gov. Mitch Daniels grant him clemency, which would spare Baird from execution.

The four-member board, appointed by the governor, heard testimony Friday from Baird during a hearing at the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City.

The Parole Board will reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Indiana Government Center South Auditorium, 302 W. Washington St., to hear testimony from witnesses on behalf of Baird and his victims. The board will vote at 2:30 p.m.

By Kevin Corcoran

Convicted killer Arthur P. Baird is "grossly psychotic and delusional" and is not competent to face execution early Aug. 31, a psychiatrist said in report filed by Baird's attorney Monday with the Indiana Supreme Court.

The case could test whether executing the mentally ill constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Indiana law prohibits the execution of people who are mentally retarded but doesn't say whether the lives of severely mentally ill killers also should be spared. The U.S. Supreme Court also has not addressed the question.

Indiana's high court in July set Baird's execution date after citing procedural reasons for rejecting the Death Row inmate's claim that he should not be executed because he is mentally ill. The court said Baird's legal claim was flawed because it had not been raised in earlier judicial reviews.

Baird's pro bono attorney, Sarah L. Nagy, is preparing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. She's also trying to buy time for her client by challenging his legal competence to face execution. Indiana law also does not address the question.

Baird, a 1964 Ben Davis High School graduate, does not comprehend the nature of the murders he committed in 1985 well enough to face lethal injection, according to an 11-page written evaluation by Dr. Philip M. Coons, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Coons is a forensic psychiatrist whose work has been widely published in peer-review medical journals.

"He thinks the sentence is unjust because he did not choose to murder his wife and parents. His hands murdered his wife and parents while under the control of unseen forces and persons," Coons wrote in a psychiatric evaluation. "It would be unjust to execute an individual who suffers from a severe mental disease or defect."

Nagy also has filed a sworn statement with the court from Howard E. Wooden, a forensic psychologist who believes Baird killed his wife and parents during a psychotic episode. Wooden last evaluated Baird more than 10 years ago. He said in his statement that Baird's mental illness was unlikely to improve without treatment.

In prison, Baird has not received medicine or treatment for his delusions, court records show.

In a written response to Baird's filings, Deputy Attorney General Andrew A. Kobe said the state "continues to respectfully oppose" efforts by Baird to delay -- and ultimately lift -- his death sentence. Without offering any evidence the state might have regarding Baird's ability to comprehend why he's facing execution, Kobe called the psychiatric evaluation's findings "vague and contradictory."

Four Indiana inmates have been executed so far this year -- the most in one year since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Baird would be the fifth.

Baird, 59, formerly of rural Montgomery County, has been held in the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City since a jury found him guilty of three counts of murder and one count of feticide. The jury could have found him "guilty but mentally ill," though such a finding does not guarantee treatment in prison or spare convicted killers from death.

Baird strangled his pregnant wife, Nadine, on Sept. 6, 1985, and fatally stabbed his parents, Arthur and Kathryn Baird, the next day.

Baird, who had never before been in legal trouble, has consistently maintained that a "big, burly man" controlled his actions during the slayings. Every mental health professional who has examined Baird, including those appointed by courts, has concluded he was unable to control his actions at the time of the crime.

Last month, Nagy asked the state's high court to delay Baird's execution so she could file a new petition for post-conviction relief, a maneuver that allows courts to consider evidence unavailable at trial. She also asked the court to appoint two independent psychiatrists to determine whether Baird is legally competent to face execution. The court has not ruled on either request, but a ruling is expected soon.

Nagy wants the nation's high court to determine whether executing a mentally ill person constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The court has never addressed the question of executing people who kill due to an "irresistible impulse" inspired by mental illness.

Call Star reporter Kevin Corcoran at (317) 444-2770.