In Alabama's first execution since 2011, a 29-year-old convicted murderer was lethally injected at Holman Prison in Atmore, amidst opposition from prisoners' rights groups who claimed he was mentally ill and therefore unfit to be executed.

Andrew Reid Lackey was ruled guilty of killing 80-year-old WWII veteran Charlie Newman in 2005. In a 911 recording, Lackey could be heard asking, "Where's the vault?" in search of money.

Lackey was a friend of Newman's grandson, who reportedly had mentioned his grandfather had a vault filled with gold bars. Lackey was 22 years old when the murder occurred.

Evaluating Mental Health

Though prisoners rights' groups like Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) argued against the death penalty on the grounds that he was mentally ill, Lackey himself dropped his appeals and did not attempt to stop the execution. In a letter to the Alabama Supreme Court in October, he wrote, "Please set me an execution date. I do not wish to pursue any further appeals for my death sentence."

Bryan Stevenson, an attorney with Equal Justice Initiative, argued that Lackey's mental health should have been examined before allowing him to drop his appeals.

"The Alabama Supreme Court has ordered [Lackey] to be executed... even though no state or federal court has completed appellate review in the case to determine whether his trial was fair or his sentence appropriate," EJI wrote on its website.

EJI went on to note that Lackey had recently attempted suicide, saying that his "mind has started to break down." Lackey's mother, in her testimony at the trial, had mentioned that he "lives in Andrew land" and that there had been "something wrong" with him since he was a child. Lackey had been taking psychotropic medications, but the court decided not to order a psychological competency evaluation.

However, the convicted murderer was reportedly calm before his execution on July 25, spending his time watching TV and writing letters.

Past Court Cases

Mental illness has come up as a factor for many who argue against the death penalty. In the 1986 case Ford v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court decided that the "insane" could not be executed.

That of course depends on the extent of mental illness or insanity that the convicted person is evaluated to have, making the determination of guilt more complex for people with mental health issues. Mental Health America estimates that five to ten percent of those who are on death row have some form of serious mental illness.

International public health consultant Dr. Cesar Chelala noted in an essay on Counterpunch that over 60 people with mental illness or retardation have been executed in the United States since 1983.

Other cases have highlighted mental retardation as a reason to stop the execution of a convict. In a 2002 case, Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that executing someone with mental retardation violates the 8th Amendment, which states that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted."

Daryl Renard Atkins was convicted of capital murder for robbing and killing airman Eric Michael Nesbitt in 1996. Atkins was sentenced to death, but was later removed from death row after a clinical psychologist confirmed his IQ to be 59, labeling him "mildly mentally retarded."

However, after the trial the states were left to define "mental retardation" on their own. The term "mental retardation," also known as "intellectual disability," is not the same as a "mental illness" or "mental disability."

The UN Commission on Human Rights urges "not to impose [the death penalty] on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder; not to execute any such person."

After his failed suicide attempt, Lackey had described himself being in an "infinite loop" where he saw "the end as the beginning." Whether or not his mental illness rendered him unfit to drop his appeals will be left uninvestigated. He was confirmed dead Thursday at 6:25pm CDT.