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AI Index: AMR 51/157/2002
Death penalty / Legal concern
3 October 2002
James Blake Colburn, (m), white, aged 42
James Colburn is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 6 November 2002. He
was sentenced to death in October 1995 for the murder of 55-year-old Peggy
Murphy in June 1994. James Colburn has an extensive history of paranoid
schizophrenia, a serious mental illness whose symptoms include delusions
and hallucinations. His mental condition may have been exacerbated by
childhood sexual abuse at the hands of relatives as well as a homosexual
rape he was subjected to by a stranger when he was 17, the age at which he
was first diagnosed with schizophrenia.
James Colburn was arrested on the day of Peggy Murphy’s murder after he
told a neighbour to call the police because he had killed a woman. James
Colburn waited until the police came, and at the police station gave a
videotaped confession. He told police that he suffered from schizophrenia,
and during his statement there were indications that he was struggling with
his illness; he paced back and forth when standing, rocked to and fro when
sitting, lost control of his bladder and had to be given dry clothes, and
the interrogating officer noticed that he was shaking uncontrollably.
Referring to the murder of Peggy Murphy, James Colburn told police that he
had experienced “this flash that I was going to hurt her” and said that
“this one impulse come over me said to kill her. I couldn’t stop myself”.
At the time of the murder, James Colburn was being treated on an outpatient
basis, although his care was irregular. For periods in pre-trial
detention, the Montgomery County Jail withheld his medication when Colburn
refused to pay for it. Consequently, in October 1994, he was suicidal, and
urinating and defecating on himself. Two weeks later, he was “very agitated
and contemplating suicide” and was placed in restraints. In May 1995, for
example, he was again put in restraints as he reported having auditory
hallucinations telling him to kill himself.
During his trial in October 1995, James Colburn received injections of
Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug which can have a powerful sedative effect.
A lay observer, a nurse with experience of mentally ill patients, has
stated in an affidavit that Colburn appeared to fall asleep on frequent
occasions during the proceedings. In her opinion, his “lethargic state
prevented him from participating in his defence or even paying attention to
his own murder trial”. The defence lawyers have stated that they believe
that Colburn was competent to stand trial, that is that he had a rational
understanding of the proceedings and could assist in his defence. However,
at one stage of the trial one of the lawyers had to ask for (and was
granted) a recess in order that he could “walk my client around the room a
little bit. He’s snoring kind of loud”. In an affidavit, the lawyer
acknowledged that “Mr Colburn dozed occasionally during the trial”.
The appeal courts have upheld the conviction and death sentence, rejecting
evidence that James Colburn was not competent to stand trial due to his
mental illness and the sedative effect of the Haldol injections. In May
2002, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote: “We need not
determine the number of times Colburn fell asleep during trial because
whether Colburn fell asleep once or slept through most of his trial is not
dispositive of Colburn’s competence”.
Before the trial, a psychologist was appointed by the court to evaluate
whether James Colburn was sane at the time of the murder, and whether he
was competent to stand trial. The psychologist concluded that he was both
sane and competent. However, his examination of Colburn was conducted 10
months before the trial. In a post-conviction affidavit, the psychologist
said that having learned of the Haldol injections and the apparent sedative
effect they had on James Colburn, “it is my opinion that during the trial
itself, as opposed to the date on which I examined him.it is not
reasonably probable that. Mr Colburn was legally competent to stand
trial”. He further suggested that proceedings should have been suspended
to “adjust Mr Colburn’s medication so that he was oriented and aware”.
A psychiatrist who conducted an assessment of James Colburn in 1997, and
reviewed the records in the case, concluded that there were “serious
questions and concerns regarding [Colburn’s] competency to stand trial at
that time”, and that Colburn had been “seriously sedated during the time of
Repeated resolutions in recent years at the United Nations Commission on
Human Rights have called on retentionist countries “not to impose the death
penalty on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder or to
execute any such person”. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a
nonprofit support and advocacy organization in the USA, opposes the death
penalty against people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
Since the USA resumed judicial killing in 1977, 804 men and women have been
put to death nationwide. Texas accounts for 285 of these executions. Texas
has carried out 29 of the 55 executions this year.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible,
in English or your own language, in your own words:
- expressing sympathy for the friends and family of Peggy Murphy;
- noting that James Colburn suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and has
- noting that the appeal courts have upheld the death sentence despite
evidence that James Colburn may have been incompetent to stand trial
including as a result of injections of the anti-psychotic sedative, Haldol;
- noting that the power of executive clemency exists precisely to
compensate for the rigidity of the judiciary;
- noting the repeated resolutions at the United Nations calling for the
death penalty not to be used against the mentally ill, and noting the
position of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill;
- calling for clemency for James Colburn in the interest of decency and the
In your appeals, please quote James Colburn’s death row number: 999169
Gerald Garrett, Chairperson, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
P.O. Box 13401, Austin, Texas 78711-3401, USA
Fax: + 1 512 463 8120
Salutation: Dear Mr Chairperson
The Honorable Rick Perry, Governor of Texas
State Capitol, PO Box 12428, Austin, TX 78711, USA
Fax: +1 512 463 1849 / 0039 / 1932
and to diplomatic representatives of the USA accredited to your country.
You may copy appeals to the following newspaper, and/or send brief letters
Viewpoints, c/o Houston Chronicle
, PO Box 4260, Houston, Texas 77210, USA
Fax: + 1 713 220 3575. E-mail: email@example.com
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
Scientific international publications on Arctic charr from the department of Wildlife, Fish, and Environmental Studies 1989 Eriksson, L.-O. 1989. The present status of Arctic charr rearing in Sweden. EAS Special Nilsson, J. 1989. Selective breeding of Arctic charr ( Salvelinus alpinus ) EAS Special 1990 Linnèr, J., Brännäs, E., Wiklund, B.-S. & Lundqvist, H. 1990. D
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