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November 09, 2007
On Sunday evening, November 11, 60 Minutes on CBS will feature a story about Tennessee inmate Gregory Thompson entitled, “Insanity on Death Row.” Greg Thompson was convicted of killing Brenda Lane, in Coffee County in 1985. Thompson, in a delusional state, believed that the Ku Klux Klan was pursuing him and used Lane’s care to attempt an escape. There is little doubt that Thompson committed this tragic murder, but there is also little doubt that Gregory Thompson is also severely mentally ill.
For some time prior to Lane’s murder, Thompson’s family had noticed extreme changes in his behavior. They had attempted to get Thompson psychiatric help but were unable to afford the cost of care. Since the crime, he has been diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, and in 2001, the state of Tennessee asked that a conservator be appointed to make decisions for Thompson as he was not sane enough to be entrusted with his own care.
The story of Gregory Thompson highlights the lack of understanding within the criminal justice system of those with mental illness and that population’s vulnerability in such a system. Since his incarceration on death row, prison doctors have treated him for his severe disorders, including delusional thought process, psychosis, flight of ideas, auditory and visual hallucinations, mania, paranoia, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts.
TCASK is grateful that the legislative study committee examining the death penalty in Tennessee is charged with looking at the system’s treatment of those with mental illness. Sita Diehl, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Tennessee, is a member of the study committee.
Please tune into 60 Minutes on Sunday evening to learn more about this story.