Attorneys for Appellant
Attorneys for Appellee
Susan K. Carpenter Steve Carter
Public Defender of Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
Joanna McFadden Stephen R. Creason
Deputy Public Defender Deputy Attorney General
Indianapolis, Indiana Indianapolis, Indiana
Indiana law provides procedures for individuals sentenced to death to challenge their sentences
even after they have been affirmed by the State Supreme Court by means
seeking post-conviction remedies. To avail oneself of these remedies, an individual sentenced
to death must comply with certain provisions of the Indiana Rules of Criminal
Procedure and Rules of Procedure for Post-Conviction Remedies.
Indiana Criminal Procedure Rule 24(G)(2) provides:
On the thirtieth (30th) day following completion of rehearing, the Supreme Court shall enter an order setting an execution date, unless counsel has appeared and requested a stay in accordance with section (H) of this rule.
Section H provides:
Within thirty (30) days following completion of rehearing, private counsel retained by the inmate or the State Public Defender (by deputy or by special assistant in the event of a conflict of interest) shall enter an appearance in the trial court, advise the trial court of the intent to petition for post-conviction relief, and request the Supreme Court to extend the stay of execution of the death sentence . . . . When the request to extend the stay is received, the Supreme Court will direct the trial court to submit a case management schedule consistent with Ind. Code § 35-50-2-9(i) for approval.
On April 2, 2003, the State Public Defender appeared and requested a stay in accordance with these provisions. This Court granted the request and, pursuant to our order, the trial court submitted a case management schedule requiring a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief to be filed by September 9, 2003.
A Petition for Post-Conviction Relief must be signed by the petitioner. Indiana
Post-Conviction Rule 1(3). Corcoran refused to sign a Petition. On September
9, the State Public Defender made two filings of relevance to us here
with the trial court that has jurisdiction over this case. First, she
filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief unsigned by the petitioner. And second,
she filed a request to determine Corcorans competency. The trial court refused
to allow the Petition because it was unsigned but did schedule a competency
The trial court held a hearing on Corcorans competency in October, 2003.
In December, 2003, the trial court found Corcoran to be competent to waive
further challenges to his sentence and be executed. The State Public Defender
then sought our review of the trial courts determination. The State has
not disputed that the State Public Defender has standing to appeal the trial
courts competency determination, although the State does argue that the lawyers do not
have standing to raise any other issues on Corcorans behalf.
On November 16, 2004, Corcoran filed a request with this Court, accompanied by
ffidavit indicating his intention to pursue post-conviction relief after all, asking us
to dismiss this appeal of the trial courts competency determination as moot and
return this case to that court for post-conviction proceedings.
As discussed supra, Corcoran has never filed a petition for post-conviction relief and
the time to do so has, as best as we can determine, now
passed. See Crim. R. 24(H) (petitions for post-conviction relief in capital cases
must be filed within 30 days following completion of rehearing).
See footnote Therefore, the
ability of Corcoran to obtain post-conviction review of his convictions or sentence at
this point is dependent upon the resolution of issues raised by this appeal.
We conclude it is in the best interest of the orderly processing
of this litigation for this Court to co
mplete review of the issues raised
in this appeal at this time. For this reason, Corcorans motion to
dismiss this appeal is denied.
We proceed to address the issues initially raised in this appeal.
The State Public Defender argues that the proper competency standard is that a
in Rees v. Peyton, 384 U.S. 312 (1966) (per curiam). In Rees,
the Supreme Court held that a capital defendant may withdraw a petition for
certiorari only after it is determined whether he has capacity to appreciate his
position and make a rational choice with respect to continuing or abandoning further
litigation or on the other hand whether he is suffering from a mental
disease, disorder, or defect which may substantially affect his capacity in the premises.
Rees, 384 U.S. at 314.
We are constrained to say that we find little if any difference between
the standards enunciated in Dusky and Rees. See Godinez v. Moran, 509
U.S. 389, 398 n.9 (1993) (acknowledging that the difference between the Dusky and
Rees standards is not readily apparent and may only be one of terminology).
A number of federal courts that have faced this question have been
unable, or felt it unnecessary, to attempt to discern a difference between the
two tests. See Dennis v. Budge, 378 F.3d 880, 889 (9th Cir.
2004) (refusing to resolve whether there is any difference between the Rees and
Dusky standards because the analytical outcomes under each test would be the same);
Michael v. Horn, 2004 U.S. Dist. Lexis 3702 (M.D. Pa. 2004) (relying on
both the principles of Rees and Dusky to determine competency to forego a
collateral challenge); Groseclose v. Dutton, 594 F. Supp. 949, 957 n.4 (M.D. Tenn.
1984) (stating that Dusky is analytically equivalent to the Rees competency test).
Federal courts have been unwilling or unable to distinguish between the Rees and
Dusky standards because both tests highlight[ ] the constitutional necessity that a criminal
defendant understand the proceedings and then be capable of aiding his legal counsel
in choosing among legal alternatives. Groseclose, 594 F.Supp. at 957 n.4.
Under both standards, the inquiry focuses on the individuals discrete capacity to understand
and make rational decisions concerning the proceedings at issue . . . .
Mata v. Johnson, 210 F.3d 324, 329 n.2 (5th Cir. 2000).
Further, neither test treats the presence or absence of mental illness or brain
disorder [as] dispositive proof of incompetence, but balances its presence or absence with
other evidence. Id. Both tests appear to be equivalent in that
each is applied in the same way to determine whether an individual has
the capacity to comprehend the legal proceedings with which he or she is
confronted and assist his or her counsel in choosing among the various legal
For these reasons, we will evaluate the post-conviction courts competency determination under the
principles of both standards.
The post-conviction court here acknowledged in its written findings that Corcoran suffers from
a mental illness. The State also concedes that Corcoran suffers from a
mental illness. At the competency hearing, the State Public Defender presented the
testimony of three mental health experts,
See footnote each of whom concluded that Corcoran suffers
from paranoid schizophrenia. One of the symptoms of Corcorans condition, according to
the three experts, are recurrent del
usions that Department of Correction prison guards are
torturing him through the use of an ultrasound machine, causing him substantial pain
and uncontrollable twitching.
On the basis of this diagnosis, all three experts concluded Corcoran was unable
to make a rational decision concerning the legal proceedings confronting him. Each
expert stated that Corcorans decision to forego post-conviction review of his sentence, thereby
hastening his execution, was premised on his desire to be relieved of the
pain that he believes he experiences as a result of his delusions.
To follow the experts logic, Corcorans decision to forego post-conviction review cannot be
rational if based upon his delusions, which are irrational.
Corcoran, however, made no statement to any of the experts evaluating him indicating
that he wished to end his appeals in order to escape his paranoid
See footnote Corcorans prison med
ical records and the testimony of each expert indicated
that his psychotic symptoms were being controlled through various psychiatric medications. Corcoran
himself spoke directly to his reasons for not pursuing post-conviction review and the
contention that his delusions were prompting his actions at the post-conviction hearing stating:
See, I want to waive my appeals because I am guilty of murder. I think that I should be executed for what I have done and not because I am supposedly tortured with ultrasound or whatever. I am guilty of murder. I should be executed. That is all there is to it. That is what I believe. I believe the death penalty is a just punishment for four counts of murder, and I believe that I should be executed since I am guilty of four counts of murder.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 89). Corcorans explicit denial that his delusions prompted him to waive his right to post-conviction review and his reasoning that his death sentence is commensurate with the crime he committed (the conclusion to which both the original trial court jury and judge came), makes it impossible for this Court to conclude that the evidence is without conflict and leads only to a conclusion contrary to the result of the post[-]conviction court. Timberlake, 753 N.E.2d at 597.
Moreover, there is substantial evidence of record that Corcoran was aware of his legal position and the consequences of his decision to forego any further post-conviction review. When asked whether Corcoran has the capacity to understand his legal position, Dr. George Parker, who evaluated Corcoran in preparation for his post-conviction hearing stated:
He has a very clear awareness of the status of his case. He is aware he has been sentenced to death. He is aware that he is in the appeals process. He has a good memory of the events that have taken place from the time of the offense to the trial, to the sentencing phase, and then through the more extensive appeals phase. He is aware of the attorneys positions and how, how the attorneys have changed over the course of the trial and then [the] appeals process. So, he has a good understanding of what is at issue.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 48). Dr. Robert Kaplan, who also evaluated Corcoran, testified that Corcoran was aware that by not continuing with post-conviction review that he would be executed.
Corcoran was questioned directly by both the States attorney and the presiding judge regarding his awareness of the proceedings and his legal position. The States attorney asked the following questions:
Question: Do you understand that by waiving these appeals, you are going to make that happen (his execution) relatively soon?
Corcoran: Yes, I understand.
Question: Do you understand that this appellate process is the opportunity for you to
fight to stay alive?
Corcoran: Yes, I understand.
Question: And you are willing to accept the sentence that was handed down by
(Super. Ct. Hrg. Tr. at 13).
The post-conviction court then questioned Corcoran with respect to the entire history of his case. Corcoran stated that he was aware that he had been convicted of four capital crimes. He related that he understood the purpose of his initial direct appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court to review his death sentence and that his appeal had been unsuccessful. The judge then asked the following questions in order to ascertain Corcorans level of awareness of the post-conviction proceedings taking place:
The Court: [Do] you understand that these proceedings are your last attempt to review this case?
Corcoran: Yes, I understand.
The Court: Do you also understand that if the review here, were it necessary
up on appeal, is unsuccessful, that you would be executed?
Corcoran: Yes, I understand.
The Court: Has anyone, Mr. Corcoran, forced you to waive your rights to appeal?
The Court: Has anyone threatened you to waive your rights to appeal?
The Court: Did anybody tell you, anybody at all, tell you that you would
get more favorable treatment if you waived your right to appeal?
The Court: You understand that the two ladies sitting to your left are appointed
by the Court to represent you?
Corcoran: Right, yes.
The Court: Do you trust their judgment?
Corcoran: I disagree with them, but I trust their judgment
The Court: What do you disagree with them about?
Corcoran: They didnt have to call a competency hearing, but they did anyway.
I disagree with calling the competency hearing.
The Court: You disagreed with them filing that motion?
The Court: And you understand what their (defense attorneys) responsibilities are?
The Court: And what [the deputy attorney generals] responsibilities are?
The Court: And what my responsibilities are?
The Court: And you know what we are doing here today?
The Court: What were we doing here today?
Corcoran: Determining my competency whether or not I am able to make a decision
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 87-88). Both the States and post-conviction judges questioning of Corcoran reaffirm the testimony of Dr. Parker that Corcoran was able to appreciate the gravity of his legal position and the consequences of his choice to waive further post-conviction review. The portions of the record described and set forth supra are also sufficient evidence to support the post-conviction courts determination that Corcoran made his choice knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.
Corcorans awareness of his legal position and his ability to formulate a rational justification for forgoing further post-conviction review make him competent to waive such review under either Rees or Dusky. The evidence supports the trial courts conclusion that Corcoran has both a rational understanding of and can appreciate his legal position. Further, the evidence does not conclusively indicate that Corcorans decision was not made in a rational manner. Thus, we are unable to conclude that the evidence as a whole lead[s] unerringly and unmistakably to a decision opposite that reached by the post-conviction court, and so we affirm its competency finding. Timberlake v. State, 753 N.E.2d at 597 (citing Harrison v. State, 707 N.E.2d 767, 773 (Ind. 1999)).
The State, as noted in footnote 2 supra and accompanying text, contends that
the State Public Defender is not entitled to litigate these claims in this
We agree with the State on this point. Corcoran himself did not
authorize this proceeding within the timeframe required by Criminal Rule 24(H) and without
his authority, neither the trial court in this proceeding nor this Court has
jurisdiction to review claims for post-conviction relief. See P-C R. 1(3) (A
petition for post-conviction relief shall be submitted in a form in substantial compliance
with the standard form appended to this rule . . . . The
petition shall be made under oath and the petitioner shall verify the correctness
of the petition.). While we recognize and appreciate that the State Public
Defender raises these claims in the sincere belief that Corcoran is incompetent and
did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waive his right to post-conviction review, that
belief alone is not sufficient to overcome the rules requirement.
In any event, had we found Corcoran incompetent or otherwise not to have
knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his right to post-conviction review, we in all
likelihood would have remanded to the post-conviction court for its review of these
claims. But we feel constrained to say that both contentions appear to
constitute free-standing claims of error that would not be available for post-conviction review.
Williams v. State, 808 N.E.2d 652, 659 (Ind. 2004) (If the issue
is not raised on direct appeal, a claim of ineffective assistance of trial
counsel is properly presented in a post-conviction proceeding, but as a general rule,
most free-standing claims of error are not available in a postconviction proceeding because
of the doctrines of waiver and res judicata.) (quoting Timberlake, 753 N.E.2d at
In Judy v. State, the defendant had been convicted of four counts of
murder and sentenced to death. Judy, 416 N.E.2d at 100. After
his conviction and sentencing, Judy requested that he be permitted to waive his
appeal. Id. We found Judy competent to waive his appeals, but
refused to allow him to do so without further review to ensure that
his sentence had been imposed fairly.
Id. at 102. We held
that the death sentence cannot be imposed on anyone in this State until
it has been reviewed by this Court and found to comport with the
laws of this State and the principles of our state and federal constitutions.
In addition to promoting societys interest in certainty that when capital punishment is imposed, it is appropriate in light of the nature of the offense and character of the offender, automatic post-conviction review would assure that issues unavailable or otherwise not raised at trial that bear upon the propriety of the sentence would be reviewed. The State Public Defenders request here that we review Corcorans waiver of review on direct appeal of issues relating to his convictions and the constitutionality of the execution of a severely mentally ill person illustrates this point. While as free-standing claims of error, these contentions would unlikely be available for post-conviction review, they could well form the basis of claims of ineffective assistance of trial or direct appeal counsel. See generally Woods v. State, 701 N.E.2d 1208 (Ind. 1998) (concluding that collateral review will often be the only means to contest the effectiveness of trial or direct appeal counsel). Automatic post-conviction review would permit adjudication of whether Corcoran was the victim of constitutionally deficient performance by counsel at his trial and during his direct appeal.
On the other hand, post-conviction proceedings differ markedly from direct appeal. They
occur after the direct appeal stage when the defendants and societys interests in
prolonging capital litigation weakens. One commentator has formulated this analysis as follows:
A defendant seeking to waive proceedings for the first time at the post-conviction relief stage is more likely to have been appropriately convicted and sentenced than a defendant seeking to waive proceedings at the early stages. Such a defendant has received a full trial, full sentencing hearing and full appellate review. Every stage serves as a checkpoint, an additional safeguard filtering out the impurities. A defendant is less likely to be wrongfully sentenced to death after each stage. Information is gained at the completion of each stage. Any other conclusion would suggest that each [previous] proceeding serves no valuable purpose and would degrade the entire capital proceeding to nothing more than a random game of chance. Therefore, because each stage reduces the chance that a defendant has been inappropriately sentenced to death, the risk of arbitrary application of the death penalty is much lower at the post-conviction relief stage than at previous stages.
Anthony J. Casey, Maintaining the Integrity of Death: An Argument for Restricting a Defendants Right to Volunteer for Execution at Certain Stages in Capital Proceedings, 30 Am. Jour. Crim. L. 75, 103 (2002). We generally agree.
We conclude that, at the post-conviction stage, the interest in achieving finality outweighs the benefits of mandating further review. See footnote We decline to extend automatic post-conviction review to capital litigants who do not seek such review within the time limits i mposed upon them by the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The parties are entitled to seek rehearing from this decision in accordance with
Indiana Appellate Rule 54. In the event rehearing is not sought or
denied, this Court shall enter an order on the 30th day following completion
of appellate review, i.e., the later to occur of the date of this
decision if rehearing is not sought or the date rehearing is denied setting
an execution date. See Criminal Rule 24(H).
Shepard, C.J., and Dickson and Boehm, JJ., concur. Rucker, J., dissents with
Rucker, Justice, dissenting.
I respectfully dissent because I believe Corcoran is not competent to waive his right of post-conviction review.
At his sentencing hearing several years ago, the trial court found that Corcoran
has proved the mitigating circumstance that he was under the influence of a
mental or emotional disturbance at the time the murders were committed on July
Corcoran v. State, 774 N.E.2d 495, 499 (Ind. 2002).
Although this circumstance was assigned little weight, the trial court nonetheless found that
Dr. Engums opinion at trial was consistent with the opinions of the Court
appointed experts that the Defendant suffered from a personality disorder, either paranoid personality
disorder, or schizotypal personality disorder. Id. It is apparent that since
July 1997 Corcorans mental state has deteriorated significantly. So much so that
his personality disorder has now developed into full-blown paranoid schizophrenia. In short,
Corcoran is seriously mentally ill. And how does his mental illness manifest
itself? Corcoran is under the paranoid delusion that prison guards are torturing
him with sound waves. As a result, Corcoran wants the State to
execute him in order to end the pain. I am not willing
to accommodate him.
The majority places great weight on Corcorans own representation that he is not
incompetent and wishes to forgo further judicial review, not because of his paranoid
elusions, but rather because he is guilty of murder and should be punished.
According to the majority, Corcorans awareness of his legal position and his
ability to formulate a rational justification for forgoing further post-conviction review make him
competent to waive such review . . . . Slip op. at
Rees v. Payton, the Supreme Court declared that in the context of
a partys ability to waive his right to further appeals a court must
determine, whether [the petitioner] has capacity to appreciate his position and make a
rational choice with respect to continuing or abandoning further litigation or on the
other hand whether he is suffering from a mental disease, disorder, or defect
which may substantially affect his capacity in the premises. 384 U.S. 312,
314 (1966) (per curiam) (emphasis added). This test is slightly different than
the one announced in Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960) (per
curiam), where the Court considered the standard for determining competency to stand trial.
In Dusky the Court stated that the test [for competency] must be
whether he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a
reasonable degree of rational understanding and whether he has a rational as
well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him. Id. at 402.
In my view, the ability to consult with ones lawyer and to have
an understanding of the legal proceedings is not quite the same as the
ability to make a rational decision to forgo additional judicial review. It
is not inconceivable that a defendant may have the ability to consult with
counsel and have complete understanding of the proceedings against him and yet, because
of a mental disease or defect, make an irrational decision regarding the pursuit
of further litigation.
See, e.g., Dennis ex rel. Butko v. Budge, 378
F.3d 880, 888 n.4 (9th Cir. 2004) (maintaining that the proper Rees question
as applied to a defendant suffering a mental illness but understanding the court
proceedings is: If the person is suffering from a mental disease or defect
which does not prevent him from understanding his legal position and the options
available to him, does that disease or defect, nevertheless, prevent him from making
a rational choice among his options?) (emphasis added) (citing Rumbaugh v. Procunier, 753
F.2d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 1985)).
In any event, even assuming the two tests are indistinguishable, the fundamental requirement
underlying any notion of competency still must be one of rationality.
e.g., Matheney v. Anderson, 377 F.3d 740, 747 (7th Cir. 2004) (Under Dusky,
a defendant may not be tried unless he has a rational as well
as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.) (citations omitted); Budge, 378 F.3d
at 890 (The question under Rees . . . is not whether mental
illness substantially affects a decision, but whether a mental disease . . .
substantially affects the prisoners capacity to appreciate his options and make a rational
choice among them.) (citations omitted); Wilson v. Lane, 870 F.2d 1250, 1253 (7th
Cir. 1989) (Under Rees, the question is whether [the defendant] had the capacity
to appreciate his position and make a rational decision . . . .).
In this case, the three mental health professionals testifying at Corcorans competency hearing
concluded that Corcoran was not competent to make a rational decision concer
litigation. Their testimony on this point should be given credence. The
first mental health professional to testify was Doctor Robert G. Kaplan, a clinical
psychologist. After reviewing voluminous documents, including the psychological reports of several other
doctors, and after interviewing Corcoran himself for approximately four hours, Dr. Kaplan reached
certain conclusions. I recount the following exchange in some detail:
[Defense Counsel] Okay. Do you think Mr. Corcoran has the capacity to appreciate the legal position in any of these things?
[Dr. Kaplan] No.
[Defense Counsel] Why are you saying that?
[Dr. Kaplan] I believe that he is delusional, that there are, that he is suffering from a severe mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia that is causing him to believe things about his situation that has affected his ability to make appropriate decisions regarding his defense and how to proceed.
[Defense Counsel] What is this delusion?
[Dr. Kaplan] He has actually two delusions. The first delusion is that the guards are operating an ultrasound machine that is causing him, his body to twitch and move uncontrollably, that it is causing him pain as well. Um, and he has another delusion in which he believes that he is saying things, um, without, um, knowing what he is saying that is causing other people to, to um, become angry at him, to make fun of him.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 11-12).
. . . .
[Defense Counsel] Okay. Does Mr. Corcoran have the capacity to make a rational choice with respect to abandoning litigation?
[Dr. Kaplan] No.
[Defense Counsel] Why is that?
[Dr. Kaplan] Again, he has, he hashe has a psychosis which is paranoid schizophrenia that is leading him to believe that, you know, one of the reasons that he wants to die is because he doesnt want to continue with this speech disorder that he really doesnt have. And another reason he wants to die is because he doesnt want to continue to be a victim of the guards ultrasound machine. And that is a highly bizarre belief that is not likely to be in existence either.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 14).
. . . .
[Defense Counsel] Is Mr. Corcoran suffering from a mental disease, disorder, or defect?
[Dr. Kaplan] He is suffering from a very severe mental disease and defect.
[Defense counsel] What mental disease is that?
[Dr. Kaplan] Paranoid schizophrenia.
[Defense Counsel] Does that mental disease affect his capacity to make a rational choice in abandoning this litigation?
[Dr. Kaplan] Could you repeat the question?
[Defense Counsel] Does his paranoid schizophrenia affect his capacity to make a rational choice to abandon further litigation?
[Dr. Kaplan] Yes.
[Defense Counsel] At the risk of being repetitive, how, how does his paranoid schizophrenia affect his rational choice?
[Dr. Kaplan] His paranoid schizophrenia is creating a reality in his mind that doesnt exist, and on the basis of the reality that doesnt exist, he is making the decision about whether he wishes to proceed with his defense against the death penalty or not. In addition to that, the paranoid schizophrenia is also affecting his ability to think logically.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 16-17).
. . . .
[Defense Counsel] So, is [Mr. Corcoran], um, pretending to be mentally ill?
[Dr. Kaplan] No. I, I also administered tests of malingering, psychological tests of malingering. And they clearly showed he was not malingering any mental disorder. Again, if anything, they showed that he was trying to cover up his psychological symptoms and tried to look better than he really was.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 28).
The defense also called to the stand Doctor George Parker, a forensic psychiatrist
at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Like Dr. Kaplan, Dr. Parker
examined numerous documents containing the evaluations of other mental health professionals and conducted
clinical interviews with Corcoran on two separate occasions. His testimony was consi
with that of Dr. Kaplan.
[Defense Counsel] Does [Mr. Corcoran] have a mental disease that affects his capacity to make rational choices to abandon further litigation?
[Dr. Parker] Absolutely.
[Defense Counsel] And how?
[Dr. Kaplan] His diagnosis is schizophrenia, and the symptoms that lead to that diagnosis have a direct bearing on his thought process and why he believes that his execution would be, as he says, a blessed relief. The daily torment of his symptoms of psychosis, his lack of understanding of the emotional consequence to that decision make that a very irrational thought process.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 55-56).
With respect to whether Corcoran may appear to be normal, lucid and in
control of his faculties, the following exchange is instructive.
[Dr. Parker] Um, so, he does his best to minimize the severity of his symptoms, to downplay that he might have any mental disorder. That has been a consistent theme throughout this process. . . . Um, he has a real desire to appear bad rather than mad. So, he wants to be it is better for him psychologically to appear that he is criminally responsible, than to admit that he has a serious mental illness that may have contributed to his behavior in the past. It speaks to how powerful the stigma is against serious mental illness, that he would rather be executed than admit that schizophrenia might be contributing to his desire to die.
[Defense Counsel] When someone is trying to appear normal or more normal or bad, I mean, would you need to spend more time with that person in order to come across these delusions?
[Dr. Parker] Well certainly, I think Mr. Corcoran did, if you did a brief interview of him, might be able to convince someone things are actually okay. He presents that way. He is very calm. He is organized in his thought process. He is not stupid. He is a bright man. He knows a lot of things. He speaks well for himself. Um, but just because he speaks well and in an organized way and understands sort of the nature of what is going on, the proceedings that are going against him, doesnt mean that he has got an understanding at its foundation that is logical. And the more time you spent with him, the more time you begin to understand how his thought process is a little bit skewed. And, in fact, the deeper you go, the more skewed it appears. And you can begin to understand how he might feel that execution might be preferable to life as he currently experiences in [sic].
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 56-57).
Finally, defense counsel called to the stand Doctor Edmund Haskins, a clinical neuropsychologist.
Similar to the approach of the other two testifying doctors, Dr. Haskins
also examined Corcorans voluminous medical records and conducted a clinical interview, which lasted
two to three hours, a few weeks before the hearing. Portions of
Dr. Haskins testimony follow.
[Defense Counsel] Okay. Does Joe Mr. Corcoran have a capacity to make a rational choice with respect to abandoning his litigation?
[Dr. Haskins] I dont believe so.
[Defense Counsel] And why?
[Dr. Haskins] The reason is, that in order to make a rational decision, one has to adequately hold in mind the available options one is considering. You have to consider the options. You have to make reasoned judgments, weighing the pros and cons of both options or whatever the options happen to be. In Mr. Corcorans case, in the context of this particular decision about, um, waiving his right to post-conviction review, I believe that his psychoses do not permit him to reason and make a reasoned decision in that way. I have to perhaps add that in reviewing the results of the neuropsychological testing that was done with Mr. Engum back with, Dr. Engum back in 1999, clearly, he did very well on that testing. His ability to perform on tests of memory, tests of attention and concentration, even tests of reasoning, was intact at that time.
Um, but that is not really the issue that we are dealing with here. We are dealing with his ability to make a reasoned decision in this particular case. In the context of a neuropsychological evaluation, um, when doing puzzles or doing other kinds of, of nonemotional [sic] tasks, um, academic intellectual type tasks, he can do very well with that. He is a very bright man. He has good cognitive ability.
Unfortunately, his paranoid schizophrenia, however, is preventing him from being able to put that to use in this particular case. So, rather than being able to consider all the options and weigh all of the alternatives, he is choosing only that alternative which will most inexorably lead to his own death, and he is doing that on the basis of this paranoid delusion that he is being persecuted and tormented.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 66-67). Each of the three mental health professionals testifying at Corcorans competency hearing explained that Corcorans individual thought processes have been affected by his mental illness. Such competency determinations involve a thorough assessment of a persons mental capabilities, taking into account the impact that mental illness has on those capabilities.
I acknowledge that the existence of delusions and a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia
do not necessarily preclude rational decision-making and competence. However, all three experts
unanimously concluded that Corcorans decision to welcome and hasten his own death is
based on his delusional perception of reality and has no basis in rational
thought whatsoever. The majority as well as the trial court dismiss the
mental health experts conclusions on the basis of Corcorans own representation that his
decision to die is based upon the fact that he murdered four people
and therefore deserves the ultimate sanction. However, as Dr. Parker explained:
[I]t is better for him [Corcoran] psychologically to appear that he is criminally responsible, than to admit that he has a serious mental illness that may have contributed to his behavior in the past. It speaks to how powerful the stigma is against serious mental illness, that he would rather be executed that admit that schizophrenia might be contributing to his desire to die.
(Super. Ct. Hrg Tr. at 56-57). Obviously, Corcoran is a man of considerable intelligence and expressive powers. But the fact that he offers what otherwise might be considered a rational explanation for his decision to die is itself intricately related to his mental illness.
Although I remain opposed to the execution of the seriously mentally ill,
Corcoran, 774 N.E.2d at 502 (Rucker, J., dissenting), that is not the precise
issue before us today. Rather, defense counsel merely seeks the opportunity to
pursue post-conviction relief on Corcorans behalf. The uncontroverted evidence that Corcoran is
a delusional paranoid schizophrenic is, in my view, insufficient to support a finding
of competence as contemplated by the test articulated in either Rees or Dusky.
Thus, I am of the view that Corcoran is in no position
to waive his right of post-conviction relief and that this cause should be
remanded to the post-conviction court for its review of the claims counsel makes
on Corcorans behalf.