Sane enough to die
January 17. 2007 6:59AM
Clemency denied; inmate execution set Friday
NANCY J. SULOK
Tribune Staff Writer
Norman Timberlake, who is scheduled to die early Friday by lethal injection, talks about the crime that led him to death row at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. A court-appointed psychiatrist said his mental illness is not sufficient grounds to halt the execution since Timberlake understands what is happening and why.
Tribune Photos/MARCUS MARTER
MICHIGAN CITY -- Norman Timberlake says he can't escape the voice in his head, the voice that has threatened him and told him to slash his tattooed arms with a razor.
He says he doesn't know where it's coming from. He has looked around his 12-by-10-foot cell in the Indiana State Prison's death row, checking the wall sockets and elsewhere.
During an interview at the prison, Timberlake said that at one time he thought it was Satan talking to him, but then he decided it was some kind of machine operated by government authorities.Timberlake is scheduled to die early Friday by lethal injection for the 1993 murder of Master Sgt. Michael E. Greene, an Indiana State Police trooper. The state parole board turned down his final appeal for clemency Tuesday, unanimously declining to recommend clemency to Gov. Mitch Daniels.
A lanky, bespectacled guy who talks with a southern-Indiana drawl, 59-year-old Timberlake suffers from paranoia and schizophrenia.
An order for post-conviction relief recently filed with the Indiana Supreme Court acknowledges his mental illness. It quotes a report filed by psychiatrist Dr. George F. Parker that says Timberlake is mentally ill but not insane.
"During the clinical interview,'' Parker's report says, "it was abundantly clear that Mr. Timberlake was severely mentally ill and suffers from essentially continuous auditory hallucinations. He has created an elaborate paranoid delusional system to account for the continuous auditory hallucinations, which torment him both day and night.''
Timberlake has refused treatment for his illness, the doctor said, because he is convinced he is not mentally ill.
Despite evidence of psychosis, hallucinations and paranoid delusion, Parker concluded, "it was clear, at the time of the clinical interview, that Mr. Timberlake had the mental capacity to understand that he was about to be executed and why he was to be executed.''
Two of Timberlake's 12 siblings told the parole board Tuesday that he has been mentally unstable since he was a child.
Nathan Timberlake apologized to the family of the slain trooper and asked them not to hold the family responsible for the killing.
Greene's son and daughter asked the parole board to reject clemency for Timberlake.
Michael C. Greene became choked up and teary-eyed as he recalled how his father had made him breakfast, gave him a $5 bill from his wallet, and told him he loved him before heading off to work on the day he was killed.
His sister, Shannon Davis, said she is haunted by what her father's final thought might have been.
The board heard from more than 20 speakers before recessing to make a decision.
Previous court rulings have said Timberlake's mental illness is not sufficient grounds to keep the state from executing him. All of his legal appeals have gone against him.
One recent ruling on his competence to be executed used the standard set by a case known as Ford v. Wainwright. That ruling was that the Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibits a state from executing a person who is insane at the time of execution. The U.S. Supreme Court indicated that people are insane if they are "unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it.''
Timberlake said he understands.
"I can be killed,'' he said, "and most likely I will be.''
He said he is prepared to die if his final appeals fail. But he is annoyed that his appeals have focused on mental illness, because he doesn't think he has a mental problem.
He would prefer to focus on his alleged innocence. He insists he did not kill Trooper Greene, 43, on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 1993. Greene was a 16-year veteran of the ISP.
Originally from New Albany, Ind., near Louisville, Timberlake said he had been drinking at an Indianapolis bar with a man named Tommy Lee McElroy. The two left the bar, along with a third man, in a car that belonged to Timberlake's girlfriend. Timberlake said the third man left when they visited a highway rest stop, and McElroy was driving the car.
They stopped along Interstate 65 so McElroy could urinate at the side of the highway. Greene saw the car and pulled over to investigate.
After running a records check on the two men, Greene reportedly told Timberlake he could leave, but McElroy was wanted on a warrant. He didn't know that Timberlake also was wanted for an armed robbery that had occurred the night before, according to 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten, public information officer for the Indiana State Police.
The officer was putting handcuffs on McElroy when a shot rang out, hitting Greene in the chest and killing him. The barrel of the .25-caliber handgun had been placed against his chest, leaving a muzzle burn there.
Timberlake claimed he was sitting on the trunk of the car when the gunfire started. He said McElroy had the gun and used it before the cuffs were secured.
After the shooting, McElroy, with a handcuff dangling from his left wrist, jumped back into the car along with Timberlake, and they took off. Both men were arrested later, with McElroy still wearing the handcuff.
Passers-by on the busy highway identified Timberlake as the shooter. Witnesses described Timberlake as reaching around McElroy to shoot the officer point-blank in the chest. And Bursten said Timberlake had confessed the shooting to his sister in a telephone call shortly after it happened.
Timberlake had the murder weapon on him when he was arrested.
Timberlake said McElroy had placed the weapon between them when he got into the car after the shooting, and Timberlake picked it up to keep McElroy from using it again.
Timberlake said everyone involved in the case, including McElroy and the various witnesses, all perjured themselves at his trial in the summer of 1995.
The jury didn't buy it. It took only an hour to convict him and 10 minutes to recommend the death penalty.
Timberlake said the voices started in 1995, after he arrived on death row, known in the prison as X Row.
Bursten thinks it is convenient that the mental problems didn't start until Timberlake received a death sentence.
Timberlake's mental illness is a source of discomfort to anti-death penalty folks, who are debating whether it's appropriate to execute someone who is mentally ill. But they also are focusing on the argument that executions, including those by chemical injection, are cruel and unusual punishment.
One of them is Chris Hitz-Bradley of Indianapolis, the president of the Indiana Information Center on the Abolition of Capital Punishment. He argues that no evidence exists that lethal injection is painless.
The process works by strapping the inmate to a gurney, then using a series of three injections. The first one is a temporary anesthetic, the second one paralyzes him and the third one stops his heart.
But a recent case in Florida went wrong, and the execution took longer than expected. Meanwhile, witnesses indicated the inmate appeared to suffer during the process.
"The real problem,'' Hitz-Bradley said, "is that we don't know if there are problems such as the one in Florida."
When a person is strapped tightly to a gurney and injected with a paralyzing drug, he said, executioners don't know if the person is conscious and suffering.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called a moratorium on executions after the recent botched one in his state.
And Timberlake's attorneys have asked that his execution be delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court can consider a Texas case with similarities. In that case, attorneys are arguing that Scott Louis Panetti's mental illness should spare him from the death penalty for killing his estranged wife's parents in 1992.
In the Panetti case, his attorneys have argued that awareness of the situation is not the same as rational understanding.
'At peace with it'
Meanwhile, the Rev. Tom McNally, a priest at St. Adalbert Catholic Church in South Bend, has been ministering to Timberlake at the state prison. He said the suspect isn't emotional and doesn't appear to be delusional at first, but it comes out during conversations.
The priest described Timberlake as deeply religious. The inmate enjoys acrylic painting and recently gave McNally a religious painting that he copied from a calendar. Timberlake said he also gave his 39-year-old daughter a stack of 65 paintings he completed during his incarceration.
If the execution proceeds as scheduled, McNally and Deacon Malcolm Lunsford of Merrillville will be with Timberlake in his final hours. They also will witness the execution, McNally said.
Roger Hensley, a lifelong friend of Timberlake's, also will be a witness. He said he believes Timberlake's assertion that he did not kill the officer.
"He didn't have any reason to do it,'' Hensley said. "The other guy was wanted on a warrant."
Timberlake worries that trouble might start in the prison as a result of his execution, but he wants the other inmates to know that the guards are just doing their job.
"I don't want anything to happen,'' he said. "I've been at peace with it.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Staff writer Nancy J. Sulok: