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Inmate’s execution stayed

Eileen Duffy | Monday, January 22, 2007

Following the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday morning to put a stay on Norman Timberlake’s Friday execution, Notre Dame Against State Killing (NDASK) cancelled the vigil it had planned to hold concurrently outside his prison in Michigan City.

Timberlake, 59, shot and killed Indiana State Trooper Michael Greene in 1993. He was sentenced to death in 1995, and when the state parole board unanimously denied his final appeal for clemency Tuesday, his execution by lethal injection was slated for early Friday morning.

While Timberlake suffers from paranoia and schizophrenia – including continuous auditory hallucinations – he is still eligible for capital punishment because, according to psychiatrists, he understands that he is going to be executed and why.

The Indiana Supreme Court ordered the stay on Timberlake’s execution, however, because the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the Texas case of death row inmate Scott Pannetti, whose mental afflictions are similar to Timberlake’s. The high court will likely issue a decision on that process within the next year of cases.

“[A mentally ill death row inmate] might say yes, I know I’m being executed, and not know what he means,” said Andrea Laidman, NDASK co-director. “I think Norman Timberlake knows that he’s going to be executed, but at the same time, he lives with delusions that his brain’s being tortured by a machine run by the prison.”

Timberlake still alleges he is innocent of murdering Greene, who was a 16-year veteran of the Indiana State Police. He contests that the numerous witnesses who pinned the crime on him were guilty of perjury at his 1995 trial.

He also claims he does not suffer from mental illness.

“The fact is that the lawyers of death row prisoners are going to use whatever line of argument is going to have the prisoner’s sentence commuted to life imprisonment,” Laidman said. “It’s a line of argument that is true, but not necessarily the one the prisoner’s going to favor.

“I would say that most people with mental illnesses aren’t straightforward about saying it aloud and accepting it.”

Laidman and her co-director Will McAuliffe had already returned home for Christmas break when the decision to execute Timberlake was made on Dec. 17, Laidman said, and it came as a shock when they found out online in early January.

“When we started the [NDASK] campaign, we went to a site and read the cases of all death row prisoners,” Laidman said. “… A lot of officials we talked to said they didn’t think one would be scheduled this spring.”

In the few days they had back in South Bend before the scheduled execution, the campaign spoke to its eight co-sponsors (including Notre Dame College Democrats and Amnesty International) to increase awareness on the case. Laidman and McAuliffe arranged buses to transport students and community members to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, where they would hold a vigil during Timberlake’s execution inside.

When Timberlake’s execution was stayed, the campaign organized an alternative vigil at the Grotto from 11:30 p.m. to midnight Thursday night, in memory of Timberlake as well as Greene and his family. They began a campus collection for the Greenes (which, Laidman said, they hope to petition a public official to match) to be sent to the charity of the Greenes’ choice in Master Sgt. Greene’s name.

“Pretty much anyone who becomes involved in death penalty in a serious, straightforward way will learn quickly you can’t advocate just for prisoners – you have to respect and act on behalf of families of victims,” Laidman said. “It’s a hugely hard balance to achieve, but it’s very important to the work.”

NDASK is sending a letter to the Greene family expressing its condolences and its dual mission to commemorate Master Sgt. Greene’s life of service through the collection as well as oppose using capital punishment as justice for Timberlake.

Throughout the spring, the NDASK campaign plans to further its goal of establishing a moratorium on the death penalty in Indiana by seeking signatures from South Bend organizations for its moratorium resolution. A forum has also been planned for later in the spring featuring a wide variety of viewpoints, in contrast to last fall’s heavily anti-death penalty speaker series.