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Arkansas executes mentally ill inmate

Other man set to die tonight wins stay

From Brian Cabell

Charles Singleton was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Charles Singleton was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

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A convicted murderer with a history of severe mental illness was put to death by lethal injection in Arkansas. CNN's Brian Cabell reports (January 7)
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VARNER, Arkansas (CNN) -- Charles Singleton, a convicted murderer with a history of severe mental illness who had been on Arkansas' death row longer than any other inmate, was put to death Tuesday by lethal injection for killing a woman during a robbery.

Witnesses described Singleton convulsing slightly and coughing after the drugs were administered.

According to a statement read by Dinah Tyler, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, the injection was administered at 8:02 p.m. (9:02 p.m. ET) and Singleton was pronounced dead at 8:06 p.m. at Cummins Prison, about 70 miles south of Little Rock.

Singleton's attorney, Jeffrey Rosenzweig, described himself as "frustrated, disappointed, saddened" by the execution.

Before the execution, when asked if he wanted to make a final statement, Singleton, 44, said, "I was going to speak, but I wrote it down. I'll leave it up to the warden."

Tyler later read Singleton's written statement, which was a largely rambling missive peppered with Biblical references.

"As it is written, I will come forth as you will go," part of the statement said. "I too am going to take someone's place. You've taught me what you want done and I will not let you down. God bless, Charles Singleton," the statement concluded.

Singleton's last meal, eaten Tuesday evening, was mostly vegetarian, prison officials said. He also consumed a milkshake and a few soft drinks. Singleton had met with family members and his spiritual adviser earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, the scheduled execution of another Arkansas inmate Tuesday night was uncertain.

Karl Roberts, convicted of the 1999 kidnapping, rape and murder of his 12-year-old niece, filed a motion just hours before the scheduled 9 p.m. (10 p.m. ET) execution by lethal injection. Roberts has not exhausted the appeals in his case but has never before made a move to avoid the death penalty.

His stay was granted Tuesday by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. State Attorney General Mike Beebe filed an appeal of the stay, which was rejected. His office is now considering whether to appeal to the Supreme Court, spokesman Matt DeCample said.

Roberts' warrant for execution expires at midnight.

Singleton case subject of legal controversy

Prison doctors diagnosed Singleton, who was sentenced to death in 1979, with paranoid schizophrenia, and his condition has worsened over the years, Rosenzweig said. (Full story)

Singleton's case had attracted the attention of mental health organizations and death penalty opponents, who point to a 1986 Supreme Court decision barring executing the insane. A 1990 Supreme Court decision allows the forced medication of inmates in certain cases.

In February 2003, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that states may forcibly administer anti-psychotic medication to control a prisoner's behavior, even if doing so renders the prisoner eligible for execution.

The prosecutor in the Singleton case said he believes the defendant was sane at the time of the crime and therefore unaffected by Supreme Court rulings.

"I do not feel he is being medicated in order to put him to death," said John Frank Gibson, who hasn't dealt with the Singleton case in recent years. "He's being medicated to ... keep him healthy, to control him."

Singleton was 19 when he stabbed Mary Lou York to death while robbing a small grocery store in Hamburg. She identified him before she died.

In a recent interview with CNN, Singleton said he hears voices. Asked what they were saying, the inmate said, "They talk about, for example, 'Let's hold him and see when his father come. We'll have him and his father.' They talk about ruling the world and finding a way to kill me."

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