News Release

Criminal Defense Lawyers Ask Bush For "Compassionate Conservatism" in Robison Capital Case

Washington D.C. (Aug. 16, 1999) -- William B. Moffitt, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) today sent the following letter to Texas Governor George W. Bush asking for clemency for diagnosed schizophrenic Larry Keith Robison, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on August 17, 1999:

Dear Governor Bush:

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) urges you to grant a 30-day stay in the scheduled execution of diagnosed schizophrenic Larry Keith Robison. Schizophrenia is a particularly cruel mental illness because it attacks without notice and is a lifelong affliction. And capital punishment is especially barbaric when applied to individuals, like Larry Keith Robison, whose crimes, although extraordinarily serious and extreme, were the products of profound and untreated mental illness.

As you know, Larry Robison and his family sought help for his illness when he was first diagnosed at age 21. But necessary long-term treatment was unavailable privately because Robison was poor. And ironically, the State was unwilling to treat him because he had not yet become violent. It is important to note that prior to the commission of any crimes, three doctors diagnosed Larry Robison as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. And most importantly, these diagnoses were made in a clinical setting and were not part of any legal processes.

Governor, the term “compassionate conservatism” has been used repeatedly to describe your political philosophy. We at NACDL struggle to understand exactly what you mean by this. According to the Texas Observer, your state consistently ranks among the bottom ten in the nation for per capita expenditures for mental health.

By contrast, Texas spends $2 million prosecuting the average murder case. We submit that this gross disparity simply cannot and should not be tolerated by a governor and candidate for President whose campaign slogan purports to evidence insight and understanding about those who suffer from the types of severe mental illness that plagued Larry Robison for so many years.

Given your record as governor of a state that has executed more individuals than all other states combined, NACDL is well-aware that your views on capital punishment in no way square with ours. Abolition of the death penalty is indeed one of this Association’s most important priorities. Just as NACDL is forthright and unambiguous about its policies and goals, we believe that the citizens of your state and now all American voters are entitled to know just how real and deep your sense of “compassion” reaches.

In May, Virginia’s Governor James Gilmore granted clemency to Calvin Swann. He did so after failing to extend clemency to 21 death-sentenced prisoners whose petitions he had previously considered. Like Larry Robison, Calvin Swann is a man whose extreme mental illness went untreated for years. Governor Gilmore recognized that Calvin Swann’s illness became exacerbated as a youngster and young man and that Mr. Swann continued to deteriorate in prison because treatment had simply never been provided to him.

Of note, Governor Gilmore’s platform for election included an agenda to improve the long neglected conditions of the mentally ill in his state. It certainly seems to us that these acts by Virginia’s Governor demonstrate what could legitimately be termed “compassionate conservatism.” We ask with all due respect that you demonstrate a similar compassion with respect to Larry Keith Robison. Stay his execution and grant clemency to this severely mentally ill man young man.

William B. Moffitt

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.