Harris' Lawyers Raise Mental Argument


In a legal brief urging the California Supreme Court to halt Robert Alton Harris' scheduled April 3 execution, the condemned killer's lawyers said Monday he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing because he suffers from mental disorders.

Harris' San Diego attorneys also stressed that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to kill him after he had languished on Death Row for 11 years.

In their final scheduled brief to the court, the defense attorneys expanded on these and other claims they raised in January, including a contention it would be unfair to kill Harris because he has changed for the better in prison.

Harris, 37, convicted of the 1978 murders of two teen-age San Diego boys, is in line to be the first person executed in California in 23 years.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a broad challenge to Harris' death sentence, the fourth time it has rejected a Harris appeal. The California Supreme Court upheld Harris' death sentence in 1981.

Shortly before the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Harris' attorneys, Charles M. Sevilla and Michael McCabe, filed a new appeal with the California Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court has given no indication whether it will hear that appeal.

State prosecutors last month urged the California Supreme Court to reject Harris' latest appeal as nothing more than a collection of recycled claims.

In the papers the defense lawyers filed Monday, they claimed that only recently was it discovered Harris suffers from various mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition usually associated with combat.

According to the lawyers, Harris did not know when he was sentenced to death that he suffered from the disorders for two reasons: the psychologists who tested him didn't do a good job, and, when Harris was sentenced in 1979, psychiatrists didn't recognize the post-traumatic stress disorder.

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