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Texas executes 'mentally ill' man

A Texas man said by his lawyers to be mentally ill and incompetent has been executed for killing a 12-year-old girl more than a decade ago after the US Supreme Court rejected an 11th-hour appeal.

Jonathan Green, 44, was sentenced to death for the abduction, rape and strangling of Christina Neal, whose body was found at his home in June 2000. Christina's family lived across the road from Green in Dobbin, north west of Houston.

It appeared the Supreme Court cleared the way for his execution yesterday when it rejected an appeal from his lawyers just as the window for the lethal injection opened at 6pm. However, the punishment was delayed last night by another appeal that was finally refused less than two hours before the midnight expiration of the death warrant.

Asked by the warden if he had a statement from the death chamber, Green shook his head and replied, "No." Seconds later he changed his mind, saying: "I'm an innocent man. I never killed anyone. You are killing an innocent man."

He then looked down and said his left arm, where one of the needles carrying the lethal drug was inserted, was "hurting me bad", but almost immediately he began snoring loudly. The sounds stopped after about six breaths. Green was pronounced dead 18 minutes later.

His lethal injection is the 10th this year in Texas and the first of four scheduled for this month in the nation's most active death penalty state.

Green's lawyers argued that his hallucinations made him ineligible for the death penalty and said a state competency hearing for him two years ago was unfair. That led to a reprieve from a federal district judge in Houston, but the Texas attorney general's office persuaded the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling and lift the stay of execution late on Tuesday.

Green's lawyer, James Rytting, said his client hallucinated about the "ongoing spiritual warfare between two sets of voices representing good and evil".

The appeals court found the procedures at Green's competency hearing were not improper, that no Supreme Court precedents were violated and that it was reasonable to find Green competent for the death penalty.

Supreme Court guidance says mental illness cannot disqualify someone from execution if they understand the sentence and reasons for the punishment, the state lawyers argued.

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