Originally created 05/01/01

Doctors label man incompetent



AIKEN - Citing evidence that death row inmate Donnie Council is schizophrenic and believes he is Jesus Christ, two psychiatrists told a judge Monday that he is not competent to be executed for the 1992 torture killing of an elderly Aiken County woman.

With little evidence to contradict the assertions by a both a defense and a state psychiatrist, Circuit Judge James R. Barber III is poised to declare the inmate incompetent to be put to death under South Carolina law, which mandates that convicted killers understand the nature of the case and their punishment before execution.

Judge Barber has not set a date for his ruling. If he rules Mr. Council incompetent, the killer could be executed only if he is later ruled to be competent. The psychiatrists say that will not be possible without several months or years of medication.

During the competency hearing Monday in Aiken, state psychiatrist Dr. Pamela Crawford and defense psychiatrist Dr. Donna Schwarz-Watts described the inmate's delusions.

Sometimes, he is Jesus Christ, and sometimes, he is a disciple sent to Earth to perform spiritual missions, Dr. Schwarz-Watts said. In fact, he believes his job is to keep the Earth spinning at a certain rate or it will be destroyed, she added.

He believes his 1996 death penalty trial was for rap music he wrote for the recording industry.

"He believes cannibalism goes on in death row, and the food is painted," Dr. Schwarz-Watts said.

Mr. Council told psychiatrists that he can't be killed by lethal injection because he can just spit the poison out. He believes if he is electrocuted, it will shock his body but he will immediately return to human form.

During the all-day hearing, the condemned killer sat in his chair in a green jail suit, handcuffs and shackles, frequently mumbling to his attorney. Called to the witness stand by Assistant Attorney General Don Zelenka, Mr. Council muttered incoherently at times about arriving on Flight 13 and about a statue built in his honor at the courthouse.

Neither psychiatrist said Mr. Council is faking the illness, saying it would be hard to mimic.

Still, Mr. Council has stated his desire to waive his appeals and be executed as soon as possible. Dr. Schwarz-Watts said his schizophrenia makes him unable to make that decision or to assist his attorneys in the appeals process.

After Monday's hearing, Mr. Zelenka discussed possible options with Mr. Council's attorneys, Theresa Lee Clement and Teresa Norris, both with the Center for Capital Litigation in Columbia. Mr. Council will likely be kept on death row with corrections officials deciding on whether to give him involuntary injections of a anti-psychotic medication. He could be evaluated annually to decide on competency.

Mr. Council, 35, was convicted in a 1996 trial in the torture murder of 72-year-old Elizabeth Gatti of Bath.

The victim was found dead in her home in 1992 after neighbors noticed her newspaper lying untouched. Ms. Gatti had been beaten, raped, hog-tied on the floor of her basement for hours and finally smothered with duct tape that was wrapped around her head.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 648-1395.