A man on death row for the rape and murder of a Franklin College student has planned for his death after execution, including drafting a will and deciding to be cremated.
Michael Dean Overstreet functions normally in prison, and his actions suggest he is aware he would die and cease to exist after execution, attorneys general said.
In the second day of hearings to decide if Overstreet is competent to be put to death, attorneys for the state focused on showing he is grounded in reality and therefore competent to be executed.
On Wednesday, Overstreet’s attorneys continued to call doctors who had prescribed medication or spoken with him since he’s been on death row, compiling more history about his hallucinations, delusions and severity of his paranoid schizophrenia.
But the only delusion that is relevant to Overstreet’s competency is his belief that he’s already dead or in a coma and that the execution would jolt him back into normal life with his family, according to one doctor who had recently evaluated Overstreet.
Deputy attorneys general Kelly Miklos and James Martin seized onto that point and focused their questions throughout the day on highlighting ways in which Overstreet functions normally and is aware of what will happen after his execution.
The hearings this week in South Bend are presenting two sides. The state’s attorneys are trying to prove that Overstreet is competent to be executed, meaning he knows why he was sentenced to death and what that sentence means. Overstreet’s attorneys have called multiple mental health professionals Tuesday and Wednesday to show he is not competent.
During questioning by Miklos and Martin, mental health professionals used words such as logical, rational, unremarkable, pleasant and appropriate to describe Overstreet’s typical attitude and behavior. After the first two days of testimony, the majority of witnesses testified that Overstreet never told them he thought he was in a coma or already dead.
St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller will have to decide by December whether Overstreet is competent to be executed. Federal law states that a death row inmate must understand both why they are being executed and what execution means.
Overstreet was sentenced to death in 2000 after being convicted of abducting, raping and murdering 18-year-old Kelly Eckart. Overstreet abducted her from a Franklin intersection in September 1997 and dumped her body in a ravine near Camp Atterbury.
On Tuesday, Overstreet’s attorneys tried to establish that he is delusional, believing that he is currently in a coma or already dead. Dr. Helen Morrison, who previously managed Overstreet’s medications, also testified Wednesday that it was one of many delusions he is suffering from, as well as being paranoid about being poisoned, hearing voices that tell him how to act and being unsure if impostors are taking the shape of people he knows.
On cross-examination, Morrison said that Overstreet is incompetent for execution only because of the coma delusion. The other symptoms of his schizophrenia weren’t applicable to the question of his competency, she said.
Miklos and Martin had mental health professionals elaborate on ways Overstreet is normally functioning or making preparations that someone about to die would make.
Overstreet made a will. He wants to be cremated and decided he wants his ashes divided among his loved ones. He made arrangements for his family to adopt the cat he had taken care of for seven years on death row. And he has often requested to speak with doctors when he was feeling stressed or wanted to have his medication changed if he felt like it wasn’t working.
When discussing mundane topics like his family or his cat, Athena, he can carry on a normal conversation. When doctors ask Overstreet who he is, where he is and what time it is, he can answer correctly. He’s also generally self-aware, meaning he considers himself a normal person, instead of some grandiose character or belittling himself as someone insignificant, doctors said.
“If you don’t talk to him about the delusion, he seems to be as rational as he can be,” Morrison said. “When it comes to the delusion, it is an open wound.”
Five other mental health providers said they didn’t ever hear Overstreet talk about being in a coma, although every witness said he was unreasonably suspicious and suffered from hallucinations.
Andrew Manning, a psychologist who speaks with inmates at least once a month, had noted in one medical report that Overstreet had mentioned needing to wake up from a coma. But he didn’t recall it happening until he reread a copy of the report. He’s talked with Overstreet more than 30 times in the last three years, he said.
Dr. Michael Larson, the psychiatrist who manages medications for inmates at the Indiana State Prison, said Overstreet has one of the most severe mental illnesses in the prison. But his medication allows him to function well inside prison.
When he meets with Overstreet — at least once every three months — he’s been cordial.
“He’s pleasant with me,” Larson said. “He responds appropriately with me, and he gets along with me.”
Overstreet’s attorneys will call one more doctor and then will likely rest their case, his attorney Steve Schutte said.
The state will then present its evidence, which includes transcripts of phone calls and emails from recent years and one doctor who evaluated Overstreet and said he is competent.