A man convicted of raping and
stabbing to death a female passenger on a city bus received the
death penalty after a jury deliberated three hours. Emanuel Kemp
Jr. was convicted of capital murder in the stabbing death of
Johnnie Gray, 34, who was a medical clerk at a local hospital.
Gray was the only person aboard the bus when the assault occurred,
police said. David V. Jeanfreau, the bus driver and only witness,
said Kemp robbed him and Gray at knifepoint and then ordered the
bus be driven to a local park.
Mentally ill killer's
fate is uncertain
By Toni Heinzl - Star-Telegram
May 16, 2004
One night in May 1987, a 21-year-old ex-con with a history of
armed robberies pulled a knife on a Fort Worth bus driver and
forced him to drive to Trinity Park.
There, Emanuel Kemp raped and slashed to death the only other
passenger, Johnnie Gray, a 34-year-old emergency room clerk at
John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. He also stabbed the
frightened young driver, David Jeanfreau, in the neck, but
Jeanfreau fled and survived.
For those crimes, Kemp was locked away on Death Row in 1988, alone
in his cell, where his mind slowly eroded. He is God, born from a
bottomless pit; he cannot be killed; and he has been resurrected,
Is it a cunning ploy to avoid his date with the executioner? Or is
it evidence of insanity, which could save Kemp's life?
While a national spotlight has been cast on the issue of whether
it's wrong to execute mentally retarded killers, the public debate
has largely ignored Death Row inmates who become severely mentally
ill after being convicted.
Texas and other death penalty states offer mentally ill Death Row
inmates a degree of protection through a mental competence
standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1986 Florida
In Ford v. Wainwright, the court ruled that it is unconstitutional
to execute people who do not understand that they are being
executed or why. In such a case, the execution is postponed until
the condemned is deemed competent.
Most killers, even those with severe psychoses, would be found
competent, said Texas Tech University law professor Brian Shannon.
"It's a low standard," said Shannon, co-author of the book Texas
Criminal Procedure and the Offender with Mental Illness.
Several mental health groups, including the National Mental Health
Association, say states should prohibit executions of inmates with
severe mental illnesses, such as paranoid schizophrenia, which
The association also opposes using medical treatment to make Death
Row inmates sane enough to be executed.
"People with mental illness in prison deserve treatment, but it's
unfair to restore them to a rational state so they can be executed,"
said Laurie Young, the association's vice president.
Kemp's attorneys have argued that he is too mentally ill to be
executed. And his execution has been postponed once after
"When we last visited him, it was surreal," said Bill Harris, one
of Kemp's attorneys in his federal appeal. "He'd look at you, and
he looked right through you. It was a blank stare."
Prosecutors say that while Kemp and other Death Row inmates may
exhibit signs of mental illness, many of them are faking symptoms
"Let's face it. This is their last shot to avoid execution," said
Edward Wilkinson, a Tarrant County assistant district attorney. "They
have exhausted all other claims. They have nothing else to bring."
In the past 10 years, he said, three or four Death Row inmates
from Tarrant County have unsuccessfully claimed incompetence.
"Kemp is the only one coming close to being found incompetent to
be executed," Wilkinson said.
Victims rights advocates say mentally ill Death Row inmates do not
deserve additional protection.
"The current system has enough safeguards," said Diane Clements of
Houston, president of the Texas chapter of Justice for All.
Kemp's crime was devastating for Gray's family, said attorney Huey
Mitchell, who represented Gray's parents in a civil lawsuit
against the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.
"The family is still grieving," Mitchell said. Gray's mother,
Jimmie McKinney Crownover, was in bad health and could not be
interviewed, he said.
Jeanfreau, the bus driver who escaped death by inches, said he has
been waiting a long time for justice. He doesn't see why Kemp
should be spared.
"Without a doubt, the punishment fits the crime in this case,"
State District Judge Don Leonard says he has never observed a
mental breakdown like Kemp's.
The veteran judge of Criminal District Court No. 3, who in 1988
sentenced Kemp to die, has ordered periodic mental evaluations of
Kemp since 1994, when a defense attorney handling Kemp's state
appeal first raised the incompetence issue.
"He has really gotten bad. His condition has deteriorated while in
prison ... " Leonard said. "I have no reason to believe he's
Kemp did not appear to suffer from any major mental illness on the
night of May 28, 1987, when he boarded the bus in the 1700 block
of Hemphill Street near Allen Street.
He had been paroled two weeks earlier after serving about four
years in prison for three armed robberies, including a holdup of a
Fort Worth liquor store in which he stabbed a clerk.
A psychiatrist's report in April 1988 concluded that Kemp was
competent to stand trial. The evaluation found that he understood
the proceedings and could cooperate with his attorney.
The man who prosecuted Kemp also said he showed no signs of mental
illness during the trial.
"He behaved himself during court proceedings, consulted with his
attorneys and answered appropriately when asked for the record,"
said state District Judge Bob Gill, then a Tarrant County
assistant district attorney.
"I remember after the trial, he appeared at a hearing. He wanted
to represent himself on appeal. He explained very lucidly to the
trial judge how he would go about researching and constructing an
The disintegration of Kemp's mental health since he arrived on
Death Row is documented in a series of psychiatric evaluations
starting in the early 1990s.
Prison psychiatrists repeatedly found that Kemp was mentally ill.
The first diagnosis, on Nov. 8, 1991, was chronic paranoid
schizophrenia. Patients with the condition lose touch with reality
and are haunted by hallucinations or delusions of persecution or
In 1994, Leonard appointed psychiatrist Ann Turbeville of Fort
Worth to determine whether Kemp was competent to be executed.
Turbeville's examinations of Kemp in 1994, 1996 and 1997 noted
numerous examples of delusions and bizarre behavior. After the
first two evaluations, she determined that he was incompetent to
Kemp told her that lethal injection could not kill him but that
"he might spoil."
He "did not believe anything would happen since he had died some
six times previously," Turbeville wrote in the 1996 report.
Kemp told her that he was ageless and that he had created himself.
In her last evaluation, in November 1997, Turbeville found that
Kemp had improved enough to be executed, though he maintained that
he was ageless.
She found him more coherent and noted that he remembered being
convicted of murder.
But two years later, Turbeville changed her mind.
The reason: Her review of a transcript of a taped interview that
defense attorney David Pearson had conducted with Kemp on April 2,
1999, while preparing for a state appeal.
During the interview, Kemp said prison authorities had replaced
his blood with Kool-Aid.
In a May 14, 1999, letter to Pearson, Turbeville recommended
another evaluation. Referring to Kemp's psychiatric treatment
records from prison, she pointed to signs of a turn for the worse:
"... eating foreign objects, smoking and burning everything in his
cell, difficulty keeping his clothes on, ... crawling around on
all fours and making strange noises, refusing to speak at times
and pantomiming out answers, and speaking nonsensically."
Turbeville concluded that "this patient continues to have a very
chronic psychotic state despite massive amounts of medication."
Few found incompetent
Kemp's case is hardly unique.
In February, the Georgia parole board commuted the death sentence
of Alexander Williams, who was said to be so delusional that he
believed actress Sigourney Weaver was God and spoke to him.
Three psychiatrists concluded that Williams suffers from paranoid
Convicted in a high-profile murder case in East Texas, Monty Delk
was executed Feb. 28 after years of bizarre behavior. His
attorneys had argued that he was too mentally ill to assist in his
defense. In recent years, Delk babbled and smeared himself with
Strapped to the gurney before he was executed, he declared that he
was the warden and that he was on the island of Barbados,
according to Associated Press reports.
Defense attorneys said Delk, convicted in the 1986 murder of an
Anderson County man, met the legal standard to be spared. But
state attorneys, county prosecutors and the trial court found that
Delk was feigning mental illness to avoid the death penalty.
However, Stanford University psychiatrist Ira D. Glick said it is
virtually impossible for someone to fake psychosis consistently
for several years.
"It's a lay concept of prosecutors who want to see defendants
suffer for their crime," Glick said.
Other experts say the stress and isolation of imprisonment are not
the only reasons for mental deterioration in prison.
"Remember, most serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia
and bipolar disorder, first appear in the late teens and early
20s, and that's when most people enter prison for the first time,"
said psychiatrist Terry Kupers of Oakland, Calif., author of
Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We
Must Do About It.
Exactly how often Death Row inmates claim to be mentally
incompetent is uncertain. No state agency or advocacy group keeps
An examination of death penalty appeals files at county
prosecutors' offices would yield a detailed account, but nobody
has undertaken such a study.
The National Mental Health Association estimates that 5 percent to
10 percent of Death Row inmates are severely mentally ill. Many of
those will be found competent to be executed, said Roe Wilson,
chief of post-conviction writs for the Harris County district
attorney's office in Houston.
Harris County, the nation's most active death penalty jurisdiction,
has 157 convicts on Death Row - more than a third of the state's
454 Death Row inmates.
Of the Harris County convicts, six were found incompetent to be
executed, Wilson said.
The numbers are low, she said, because few inmates are deemed so
insane that they meet the Supreme Court's standard.
"There are a lot of inmates who can have quite a few things wrong
with them and still be found competent to be executed," Wilson
Houston lawyer Richard Burr, who represented Florida Death Row
inmate Alvin Ford in the landmark Ford v. Wainwright case, said it
is difficult to succeed with a claim of mental incompetence unless
prosecutors agree with the diagnosis.
"The test requires minimal understanding on the part of the inmate
but not the ability to assist their lawyer in challenging their
sentence or conviction," said Burr, who was one of Timothy
McVeigh's attorneys in the Oklahoma City bombing trial.
Ironically, Ford, a convicted cop killer, was found competent to
be executed two years after the Supreme Court ruling that
established the standard. He died in prison of complications from
A central question in the debate is whether prison doctors can
forcibly medicate mentally ill inmates until they are sane enough
to be executed. Experts on both sides say there are no easy
The American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical
Association have decided that it is ethical for a psychiatrist to
determine whether an inmate is competent to be executed.
"Some psychiatrists have ethical concerns that they are
contributing to the execution process if they find someone
competent. But if it was officially declared unethical to do it,
you'd find no expert to conduct such exams," said Dr. Jeffrey
Metzner of Denver, chairman of the American Psychiatric
Association's Council on Psychiatry and the Law. "An exam may also
find that the person is incompetent and contribute to that person
not being executed."
But the AMA and APA oppose administering medication to make an
inmate well enough to be executed, Metzner said.
"It is ethical to medicate mentally ill Death Row inmates if the
purpose of the medication is to relieve or decrease suffering, but
not to make them competent to be executed," Metzner said.
That's where another contentious issue arises.
While some states, including Arizona and Florida, permit
involuntary medication to make an inmate competent to be executed,
the Texas Department of Criminal Justice bans the practice.
The department's policy also stipulates that prison mental health
professionals who treat Death Row inmates cannot take part in
evaluations to determine whether they are competent to be executed.
But the department will medicate mentally ill inmates against
"We treat people for mental illnesses, not for forensic reasons of
getting them up to par to be executed," said Carl Reynolds,
general counsel for the Criminal Justice Department.
That treatment, ordered for medical reasons, may make inmates well
enough that they are ultimately found competent to be executed,
"That would be, I guess, an unfortunate outcome for the inmate,"
Kemp is in that Catch-22, his attorneys say.
Once a month, he is transported from Death Row near Livingston to
the Jester IV psychiatric unit near Richmond, not far from
Houston. There, he is injected with Haldol, one of the most potent
Because Haldol can be injected, it is commonly used on patients
who refuse to take pills or drops, experts said.
Haldol acts as glue for a fractured mind. "It helps the thinking
come together," said Glick, the Stanford University psychiatrist.
"Without it, the brain is like a computer without central
Greg Westfall, one of Kemp's appeals attorneys, says he believes
that the Haldol injections amount to forced treatment because Kemp
is too insane to give consent.
"I'm worried they pump him full of Haldol every month until he
reaches that fleeting moment where he understands what's going on
so he can be executed," Westfall said.
If Kemp refused the treatment, he would be strapped down and given
the injections, Westfall said.
"He really does not have a choice," he said.
Because of privacy rules, prison officials could not discuss
Kemp's treatment, said Larry Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the
Criminal Justice Department.
Kemp was a week away from being executed when U.S. District Judge
Terry Means in Fort Worth granted a stay on June 23, 1999, so Kemp
could obtain new attorneys to file a federal appeal.
He has been living on borrowed time since. Kemp, now 36, is
approaching his 15th year on Death Row. Typically, a Texas Death
Row inmate is imprisoned for about 10 1/2 years before he takes
his last breath in the execution chamber.
Kemp is alone round-the-clock in his 14-by-6-foot cell at the
Polunsky Unit near Livingston in East Texas. He eats by himself,
receiving his food tray through the "bean slot" in his cell's
Defense attorneys Harris and Westfall, who filed Kemp's federal
appeal, say court records show that he has not been able to engage
in a coherent conversation to assist his attorneys since 1994.
They also say mistakes were made during jury selection at his
When Harris and Westfall last visited Kemp, in December 1999, he
picked up the phone on his side of a glass divider and pantomimed
having a conversation with them. He did not utter a single word.
It is uncertain when Means might rule on Kemp's appeal because the
judge has a backlog of appeals from other Death Row inmates.
If the appeals attorneys do not win a new trial for Kemp,
jurisdiction over the case would return to Leonard, the trial
"Before the ink on the court papers has dried, we would ask the
trial judge to order a new mental evaluation," Westfall said.
Haunted by memories
Just the mention of Kemp's name still touches a raw nerve in
He remembers staring at a knife with a blade more than 6 inches
long and Kemp telling him, "This is a robbery."
After the murder, Jeanfreau was haunted by memories and soon quit
driving city buses. He now works for the U.S. Postal Service in
the Denver area.
Jeanfreau says he's lucky to be alive. It hurt when driver
colleagues taunted him and called him a coward for not fighting
Kemp to prevent the rape and murder of Gray, he said.
"Some macho drivers said it wasn't even a gun, only a knife,"
Jeanfreau said. "But a knife can kill, too. I'm terribly sorry I
did nothing else. I was 22 years old. I was just a kid. I was not
trained to defend passengers against assaults."
Gray's parents won a $90,000 judgment in 1990 against the Fort
Worth Transportation Authority, court records show. In their
negligence lawsuit, the parents said a lack of proper security and
the driver's failure to protect Gray contributed to her violent
Jeanfreau said that bus drivers were not allowed to carry weapons
and that he had never taken a self-defense class.
He occasionally visits the Web site of the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice to see whether an execution date has been set for
"I don't hate anybody," Jeanfreau said, "but if you don't give him
the death penalty, who do you give it to?"