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An appeals court has overturned the sentence of Texas' longest serving death row inmate.
Raymond Riles' 'death sentence can no longer stand' because the 70-year-old inmate's history of mental illness was not properly considered by jurors, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled.
The decision means Riles' case will be sent back to a Houston courtroom for re-sentencing.
He was sent to death row in 1976 for fatally shooting John Thomas Henry in 1974 at a Houston car park following a disagreement over a vehicle.
A co-defendant, Herbert Washington, was also sentenced to death, but his sentence was overturned, and he later pleaded guilty to two related charges and was sentenced to 50 and 25 years in prison.
When Riles was tried, state law did not expect jurors to consider mitigating evidence such as mental illness when deciding whether someone should be sentenced to death.
According to Jim Marcus, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and one of Riles' lawyers, inmates like his client are 'housed on death row because their judgment is a sentence of death, but it can't be carried out because they're too mentally ill. In Texas, that means people are left to languish in the Polunsky Unit (the location of Texas' death row), where the conditions are basically solitary confinement.'
While prosecutors argued at Riles' trial that he was not mentally ill, several psychiatrists and psychologists testified for the defence that he was psychotic and suffered from schizophrenia.
Riles' brother gave evidence, saying: "[His] mind is not normal like other people. He is not thinking like other people."
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg did not challenge the effort to overturn the death sentence.
Ms Ogg said: "We are glad Texas' highest (criminal) court agreed with prosecutors and defence lawyers that jurors must be able to consider a defendant's mental health history before deciding punishment."
Ms Ogg's office declined to comment on whether prosecutors will again pursue a death sentence in Riles' case.
Mr Marcus said he thinks Riles will most likely be re-sentenced to life in prison.
"This would be a very difficult case for Harris County to pursue further because Mr Riles is so mentally ill, that it's unlikely he would be found competent to stand trial," he said.
If he were to be re-sentenced to life in prison, he would likely be eligible for release, but any final decision would be made by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Mr Marcus said.
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