News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

The Execution of Cecil Clayton and the Biology of Blame

By Sarah Kaplan | The Washington Post | March 18, 2015

In 1974, two months after having a portion of his brain removed due to an accident at the sawmill where worked, Cecil Clayton checked himself into a mental hospital, frightened by his suddenly uncontrollable temper.

Previously, Clayton had been an intelligent, guitar-playing family man, relatives said. He abstained from alcohol, worked part time as a pastor and paid weekly visits to a local nursing home.

But after the accident, which necessitated the removal of 20 percent of his frontal lobe, everything changed.

“He broke up with his wife, began drinking alcohol and became impatient, unable to work and more prone to violent outbursts,” Clayton’s brother Marvin testified at trial.

In 1979, he visited William Clary, a doctor who examined him for extreme anxiety, depression and paranoia.

“I can’t get ahold of myself, I’m all tore up,” Clayton told the doctor, according to court filings from his attorneys.

Clayton’s spiraling mental state and increasingly violent behavior came to a head in 1996, when he shot and killed Christopher Castetter, a sheriff’s deputy responding to a domestic disturbance between Clayton and his girlfriend. Clayton was eventually convicted of murder, and executed via lethal injection in Bonne Terre, Mo., Tuesday night. Continue reading »

The US Is the Only Country In the World That Locks Up Kids For Life. Could That Finally Change?

By Bryan Schatz | Mother Jones | February 11, 2015

Travion Blount was only 17 when a Virginia court dealt him six life sentences. Two years earlier, he’d robbed a group of teenagers with two older friends at gunpoint during a house party. They stole phones, money, marijuana, and purses. Blount hurt no one, but one of the older boys struck someone with the butt of his gun. Blount’s friends pled guilty and got 10 and 13 years. He went to trial instead, and when he lost, they sent him away to die in prison.

Blount is one of more than 2,500 individuals serving life sentences in American prisons and jails for crimes they committed as children. The US is the only country in the world to sentence juveniles to life behind bars.

However, that could change. Continue reading »

The Life-or-Death Test

By Maurice Chammah and Dana Goldstein | The Marshall Project | January 29, 2015

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners suffering from “mental retardation” — a now outdated term — could not face the death penalty in the 2002 case Atkins v. Virginia, debates about whether a felon qualifies for execution have often revolved around a single number: an IQ score. On Tuesday, Georgia prisoner Warren Hill was executed for the 1990 beating death of a fellow inmate. His attorneys argued unsuccessfully that his IQ of 70 disqualified him for the punishment. This evening, Texas is set to execute Robert Ladd for beating a woman to death with a hammer in 1996. His attorney has pointed out that Ladd’s IQ of 67 would disqualify him from execution in most other states.

Last May, the Supreme Court built on the Atkins decision by ruling that Florida could not exclusively use a simple IQ cut-off when it determined who was fit for execution. “An IQ score is an approxi­mation, not a final and infallible assessment of intellectual functioning,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, demanding a more holistic approach by medical professionals. “Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number.” Continue reading »

Video: Will insanity save Scott Panetti from execution? Dr. Judith Edersheim on HuffPostLive

Texas plans to execute a paranoid schizophrenic tomorrow. Activists are pleading with Governor Perry or the Supreme Court to intervene. Is this “cruel and unusual punishment”? How should the law handle mad people who commit capital crimes?

CLBB’s Dr. Judith Edersheim participated in a HuffPostLive conversation to discuss the insanity defense in light of the case of Scott Panetti, who was sentenced to die for the 1992 murder of his wife’s parents. At his murder trial, acting as his own defense lawyer, he dressed as a cowboy and called on Jesus, John F. Kennedy, and the Pope as witnesses. Panetti has been hospitalized many times since for psychosis and delusions.

View the conversation below, or on HuffPostLive, which also included Dahlia Lithwick, Slate legal affairs correspondent; George Parnham, criminal defense attorney; and Heather Beaudoin, of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Josh Zepps hosted. Continue reading »

Oklahoma Sued for Drawing the Blinds on Botched Execution

By Erin Dooley | ABC News | August 25, 2014

Prompted by the botched execution of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett, the ACLU today filed a lawsuit alleging that state prison officials violated reporters’ First Amendment rights when they drew the shade nearly 30 minutes before Lockett’s death.

Clayton Lockett, 38.

Clayton Lockett, age 38.

“Because of the State’s use of the viewing shade … the press and public received only government-edited access to an important government proceeding,” the suit asserts.

Lockett, 38, who was writhing on his gurney, “appeared to be in pain” before the blinds were drawn, the petition says. Afterward, sounds from inside the chamber “indicated pain and suffering,” but journalists were “deprived of the opportunity to verify the nature and source of the sounds.” Continue reading »