HOUSTON, TX – A 71-year-old man who spent more than four decades on Texas death row has been re-sentenced to life in prison. Raymond Riles is the longest-serving death row prisoner in the United States.
Riles was placed on death row after he fatally shot John Thomas Henry in 1974. Henry was killed after he and Riles got into an argument over a vehicle.
During the trial, prosecutors argued Riles was not suffering from mental illness, but expert witnesses for the defense testified Riles was psychotic and schizophrenic.
According to the appeal, the “death sentence can no longer stand” because at that time of the trial did not properly consider the defendant's long history of mental illness.
In the 70s, Texas state law did not expect jurors to consider mental illness as mitigating evidence in capital murder cases.
In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas jury instructions were unconstitutional because they didn’t allow appropriate consideration of intellectual disability, mental illness, or other issues as mitigating evidence in the punishment phase of a capital murder trial.
Jail records indicate that while he was on death row, Riles was treated with heavy antipsychotic medications. Even with medication Riles was never deemed mentally competent to be executed.
In April, the Texas Courts of Criminal Appeals ruled Raymond Riles could no longer be executed. According to Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, Riles is incompetent and “therefore can’t be executed.”
District Judge Ana Martinez resentenced Riles to life in prison and he will be eligible for parole immediately. He was not able to be sentenced to life in prison without parole because that was not an option when Riles was convicted.
During a Zoom hearing, Riles was present from the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. He appeared virtually because his attorneys feared that his health problems, which include severe mental illness, heart disease, and ongoing recovery from prostate cancer, would make him susceptible to coronavirus.