From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
Thursday, May 20, 2004
Contact: Kenneth Besserman, (512) 463-0113

Statement of Senator Rodney Ellis

I have been a vocal critic of the Board of Pardons and Paroles over the years. The Board, in my view, has simply not done its job, and it has not exercised an independent review in clemency cases. For years, I have called on the Board to meet, at least by phone, in order to consider death penalty clemency petitions. It has been clear for years that the role of the executive clemency process in Texas was misunderstood by those charged with its administration and clemency was little more than a cursory review of the findings made in the judicial system.

Last year, as part of overall government reorganization, the Legislature reduced the size of the Board from 18 members to 7 members. I hoped that this change in size would facilitate meaningful clemency consideration.

I applaud the Board for its thoughtful consideration in the case of Kelsey Patterson. I think the Board did its job. The Board's decision in Kelsey Patterson's case reflects strong consideration of the historical function and purpose of executive clemency -- deciding which inmates are entitled to mercy or fixing problems in cases that the courts cannot or will not remedy.

One of the purposes of the Board is to investigate and evaluate clemency cases for recommendation. The Board fulfilled its mission by making this well-informed recommendation for mercy for Kelsey Patterson. The Board's good work was rendered meaningless by the Governor's ill-informed decision to ignore its considered recommendations.

Reducing Mr. Patterson's sentence to life would have demonstrated that Texas is committed to the fair treatment of people with severe mental illness. Mr. Patterson would not have been released on parole. He would be 78 years old before he could even be considered for parole.

In Kelsey Patterson you saw a tormented soul who had an extensive and documented history of severe mental illness. Even the most casual observer could see that something was terribly wrong in this man. Our mental health system failed him, as it has failed too many others. For too many, the criminal justice system has become our de facto mental health system. I hope that this case will serve to educate my colleagues who have not dealt with mental illness; who do not see the ignored costs of mental illness in our society. Kelsey PattersonŐs delusions created victims of crime who will never forget the pain of murder; loved ones removed from their lives.

Texas can do better. We can compassionately treat those afflicted with mental illness and thereby prevent the tragedies in this case. I am disappointed that the Governor chose the path that he did.