HOUSTON — A Texas man whose lawyers argued was mentally ill and incompetent for execution was put to death Wednesday evening for killing a 12-year-old girl more than a decade ago.
Jonathan Green, 44, received lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected last-day appeals to spare him. A judge earlier this week stopped the punishment, but an appeals court overturned the reprieve. Then 11th-hour appeals delayed the punishment nearly five hours past the initial 6 p.m. execution time and as the midnight expiration of the death warrant neared.
Asked by the warden if he had a statement from the death chamber gurney, Green shook his head and replied, "No."
But seconds later he changed his mind, saying: "I’m an innocent man. I never killed anyone. Y’all 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, and said, "It’s hurting me bad." But almost immediately he began snoring loudly. The sounds stopped after about six breaths.
Green was pronounced dead 18 minutes later at 10:45 p.m.
Green was condemned for the abduction, rape and strangling of Christina Neal, whose body was found at his home in 2000 about a month after she was reported missing. Her family lived across a highway from Green in Dobbin, about 45 miles northwest of Houston.
Christina’s parents were among people to watch Green die. They declined to speak with reporters following the execution.
Green’s 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 attorneys argued 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 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling and lift the stay of execution late 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.
Green told a psychiatrist who examined him before the competency hearing that he didn’t and couldn’t have killed Christina, that false evidence was used against him and that he understood a murder conviction could result in him receiving an injection that would kill him.
Supreme Court guidance says mental illness can’t disqualify someone from execution if they understand the sentence and reasons for the punishment, the state lawyers argued.
Green had declined to speak with reporters as his execution date neared.
Investigators questioned Green at least twice in the days following Christina’s disappearance 12 years ago. His wallet was found in some woods near clothing and jewelry that belonged to Christina, but authorities found nothing else of significance at the time. A few weeks later, a tip from a neighbor about an unusually large burn pile behind his ramshackle home brought them back again.
While Green had been cooperative in the past, he grew testy and ordered them off his property when an FBI agent looking at the fire site detected the smell of a decaying body and inserted a metal probe into a patch of disturbed earth. They returned hours later with a search warrant and a dog trained to detect human remains.
The dog led officers to the girl’s body, stuffed inside a laundry bag in the home and wedged into a corner behind a piece of furniture. Green contended someone else had placed the body there and that he was being set up.
Evidence at his trial indicated he had tried to burn the body, buried it in a shallow grave, then removed it when detectives left to obtain the search warrant. DNA from her remains tied him to the slaying. A carpet fiber from her panties found in the woods was traced to a carpet in his home.
Two years ago, Green came within about four hours of execution before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the punishment amid similar arguments he was too delusional and too mentally ill to be put to death.