Trial of an appeal issue of mental competency of a Nevada County man convicted in 1997 of the murder of a Nevada County couple is set for federal court in Texarkana later this month.
Trial of an appeal issue of mental competency of a Nevada County man convicted in 1997 of the murder of a Nevada County couple is set for federal court in Texarkana later this month. Joe Louis Dansby, 60, has been incarcerated on death row for 16 years as the federal appeal of his death sentence has been contested under the U. S. Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, which affirmed that a mentally retarded individual cannot be executed. U. S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes ruled in April, 2010, that issues concerning Dansby's mental competency to understand the proceedings against him and his rights within those proceedings had been sufficiently raised to merit a determination of his mental competency. Trial of that issue is at the heart of a three-day hearing set to begin July 24 in Texarkana before U. S. District Judge Susan Hickey, now that Judge Barnes has taken senior status. Repeated attempts to have professional experts examine Dansby to determine his mental competency and capacity have failed because Dansby has refused to cooperate with anyone during his 16 years in prison to the extent that his physical health has been threatened by disease, according to court documents. “Mr. Dansby remains incompetent to proceed in the present habeas action,” Public Defender Scott Braden argues in a May 10 filing before the court. “His condition has steadily deteriorated over time. In July of 2012, Mr. Dansby was transferred from Varner Supermax to Ouachita River Correctional Unit Hospital in Malvern, Arkansas. During that time he was diagnosed as having degenerative disc disease, which paralyzed his legs and made both his bladder and bowels incontinent as well as a necrotizing fasciitis to his left forearm.” In a footnote, Braden explains that the “necrotizing fasciitis” is commonly known as “flesh eating bacteria,” and is the result of Dansby living in squalor in his own waste in his prison cell, refusing medical treatment in favor of “divine intervention,” and maintaining that the disc condition is the result of a beating by guards. Braden argues that prison medical records will show that Dansby is delusional concerning his back condition and refusal of medical care. “These various facilities have not treated Mr. Dansby for any mental illness,” Braden notes. “Counsel needs to prove that there is a likelihood that Mr. Dansby will regain competency if treated.” Arguing that Dansby's appeal on its merits must be delayed until he is treated sufficiently to regain competency, Braden notes that the issues in the July 24 hearing revolve around that necessity in order for Dansby to be able to assist in his own defense, as is his right. “The parties are expected to contest whether Joe Dansby's mental disease or defect substantially affects his ability to make rational decisions with respect to these habeas proceedings, in particular with respect to pursuing or abandoning a claim that he is mentally retarded and, therefore, ineligible for execution,” Braden writes. As a matter of law, Braden said the issue of whether Dansby's assistance is necessary in the proceedings will also be at issue. Braden anticipates introducing evidence from Dansby's correspondence, from photos of his cell conditions, testimony from various experts, state records, deposition testimony from various prison officials, and extensive evidence regarding the mental history of Dansby's family, he notes in pretrial filings. Assistant Attorney General Pamela Rumpz argues for the state that Dansby's mental competence is irrelevant to his appeal and that the trial court record in Nevada County Circuit Court is sufficient to establish the facts involved in his appeal. Rumpz intends to present evidence concerning Dansby's correspondence while in prison, DNA evidence presented at trial in circuit court, deposition testimony from various experts and prison officials, testimony from Dr. Roger B. Moore, Jr., of Cary, N.C., as to his findings in evaluating Dansby, and possible testimony from Dansby as to his relationship with his attorneys and his desire to pursue an appeal.