SOUTH BEND, Indiana — An Indiana man sentenced to death for killing a Franklin College student in 1997 is not competent to be executed because he has severe mental illness, a judge ruled Thursday.
St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller said Thursday that Michael Dean Overstreet is delusional.
"Overstreet does not have a rational understanding of the link between his punishment and his crime," wrote Miller, who was appointed to decide competency for the case from Johnson County, 150 miles south. "This court concludes Overstreet has proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he is not presently competent to be executed."
Overstreet was sentenced to death in 2000 after he was convicted of abducting, raping and killing 18-year-old Kelly Eckart of Boggstown, about 15 miles southwest of Indianapolis. She was found strangled in a ravine in Brown County shot in the head.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller says his office will review the ruling and decide whether to appeal.
"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Kelly Eckart who have endured many years of uncertainty in our criminal justice system," he said.
The ruling doesn't overturn the death sentence, just puts it on hold as long as Overstreet is found incompetent, his attorney, Kathleen Cleary said. Cleary said Overstreet was disappointed in the decision; he has said he wants to be executed.
If Overstreet had been found competent, he likely would have been executed in the next few months, Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper said.
"Once this case got shipped to a distant judge who is not beholden to the voters and citizens of Johnson County, it didn't surprise me that she didn't want to create the headache for herself by keeping with this case," said Cooper, who noted he wasn't surprised by the ruling. "I think the idea that this rapist-murderer is basically too sick to be executed is ridiculous."
Cooper said Eckart's mother, Connie Sutton, "is still in a state of shock, quite frankly. I don't think she's had the time or the ability to process what just happened."
Miller wrote in her 137-page decision about Overstreet's mental health problems dating back to when he was 17 years old, saying he had been "evaluated (and sometimes re-evaluated) by psychiatrists and psychologists."
She wrote that three psychiatrists hired by Overstreet's defense found he is not competent, while a psychiatrist hired by the state said he was. She said she found an examination by one of the psychiatrists hired by Overstreet's attorneys most persuasive.
"Overstreet is routinely beset by voices, shadow figures and imposters. His illness dictates how he behaves, what he believes and who he trusts. This court finds those to be severe constraints on his life," she wrote.
Overstreet, who was 30 years old at the time of the murder and a father of four, has said he doesn't remember the night and that he wants to die.
"I clearly feel I'm competent," he wrote in a letter to his former wife, Melissa, last year.
He also wrote Miller a letter in May saying he wanted to be executed, saying "I pray everyday nothing happens where it gets put off any longer."
Indiana has not held an execution since Matthew Wrinkles was put to death in December 2009 for the 1994 killings of his wife, her brother and sister-in-law in Evansville.