Kentucky’s longest-serving death row inmate is claiming he has a mental disability, but refusing to be tested at the state’s prison psychiatric ward.
Karu Gene White, 54, has declined to cooperate with two scheduled mental exams and his attorneys have advised him to say no to a third examination.
Attorneys Kevin McNally and Margaret O’Donnell want White examined by a private psychiatrist with the state picking up the tab. They said White should not be examined by doctors at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center because the examiners work for the state and can’t be trusted.
The fight over which doctors can conduct a mental exam and if the state should pay for a private doctor has been lingering since White first raised it in 1984 — five years after the triple slaying that landed him on death row at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville.
With the issue about to enter its third decade, state prosecutors are pushing for a judge to send him for a mental exam at the state facility or bring the claim to an end.
“If he again refuses to cooperate, we have asked that the court rule that White has waived his right to an evaluation,” said Daniel Kemp, a spokesman for the Kentucky Attorney General’s office.
McNally and O’Donnell, who made their claims in motions in federal and state courts, did not return messages seeking comment.
White killed 75-year-old Charles Gross, his wife, 74-year-old Lula Gross, and 79-year-old Sam Chaney during a February 1979 store robbery in Haddix, an Appalachian mountain community of about 2,270 people in Breathitt County.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that people with mental disabilities were ineligible for execution. Generally, that is considered to be anyone with an IQ of 70 or lower. White cited the decision shortly after the high court rendered it, prompting a federal appeal to be delayed while White sought funding for tests in state court.
In July, Special Judge John David Caudill in Powell County rejected White’s most recent bid for funding for an examination by a private doctor.
“It would be a significant savings of money if Mr. White submits to an evaluation of KCPC and the defendant’s claims of the necessity of an independent evaluation could be revisited should KCPC find that the defendant was not mentally retarded,” Caudill wrote.
If White’s mental disability claim is struck down or waived, it would end his state appeals and allow his long-pending federal appeal to move forward.
U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell halted proceedings in his most recent federal appeal in 2002 while White sought funding in state court to test if he has a mental disability.
White has been on death row for more than three decades — twice the average 15-year stay for a condemned inmate in Kentucky.
White has raised numerous issues over the years, including the long delay in implementing his death sentence and the fact that he was sentenced to death while one co-defendant, Chuck Fisher, received immunity in exchange for his testimony, and the other, Tommy L. Bowling, was paroled after serving just eight years of a 140-year term.
Fisher was only 16 at the time of the murders; Bowling was 17. Bowling, now 52, was convicted in Florida of nine counts of molestation and sexual battery of a child and sentenced to 20 years in prison. His current release date is in 2025.