Arizona Prison Therapy

A SCHIZOPHRENIC killer on death row is being treated by authorities in Arizona so he can be declared "mentally competent" and executed.

The move has outraged the anti-death penalty lobby, which is gearing up to oppose the execution next week of the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Amnesty International said the decision to treat someone in order to kill them was outrageous and morally reprehensible.

Ajamu Baraka, of Amnesty, said: "The idea that a state would go to such lengths to make someone well for the sole purpose of then imposing punishment strikes us as absurd and immoral." Claude Maturana killed Glen Estes, 16, near Tucson believing the teenager had stolen a car part.

Maturana, 44, a French citizen, took the boy's body into the desert where he tried to decapitate him before burying him. He was sentenced to death nine years ago in a case that provoked wide outrage. Maturana was declared fit to stand trial, even though questions were raised at the time about his mental health.

Carla Ryan, his lawyer since 1997, said: "The court-appointed psychiatrist expressed serious reservations about Maturana's mental state and whether he was fit to stand trial. These pleas were largely ignored by the court, which went ahead with the trial and convicted Maturana."

Mrs Ryan said the defendant's court-appointed lawyer did not challenge the decision. Psychiatrists decided Maturana was a paranoid schizophrenic and committed him to a secure prison unit at Arizona State hospital. Doctors have administered drugs to stabilise his condition.

Mrs Ryan said Maturana's mental condition had deteriorated considerably since the time of the murder. He was "so far gone" she could rarely communicate with him. He talked daily about visits from his mother who died 30 years ago and believed that he was already dead.

To be executed, Arizona law demands that the condemned man understands his fate. Arizona legislators have campaigned for his early execution. However, doctors have refused to restore Maturana's mental competence with stronger treatment, claiming that it goes against their code of ethics.

Arizona's attorney-general sent 1,400 letters to psychologists across America asking them to treat Maturana. Most rejected the request but a Georgia doctor, Dr Nelson Bennett, agreed. He declared Maturana eligible for execution. Dr Jerry Dennis, who has treated Maturana in jail, said he was bemused by Dr Bennett's assessment.

He asked: "How can a person who says he's dead already have an adequate understanding of being killed?" On May 23, the case returns to the Supreme Court, where Maturana's lawyers will ask that the stipulations for mental competence be made more rigorous.