San Antonio attorneys know as well as any attorney in Texas that the state is responsible for more executions than any other state in the union. Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas has gone ahead and carried out executions on more than 500 people—accounting for more than a third of executions nationwide. Out of those, only four were women were executed, until Feb 5, 2014, as an article in My San Antonio Online explains. Whether that discrepancy in numbers is a result of chivalry, reverse discrimination or general absence of female murderers is a question you’d have to pose to the juries of their peers. But now, another woman, convicted of murder 16 years ago, faced the hammer—or lethal syringe—of Texas justice earlier this month.
Suzanne Basso was an unpredictable defendant, and her courtroom personnel were baffled by her erratic behavior, which often evidenced itself in Basso’s assumptions of multiple personas, personal histories and behavior. “One setting she would pretend to be blind. One setting she would pretend she couldn’t walk. One setting she had the voice of a little girl,” recalls Basso’s prosecutor. Texas attorneys, including San Antonio attorneys, would be familiar with the law to understand the argument by Basso’s lawyer that Basso was not fit to face execution due to her intricate and consuming delusions. Basso’s attorney also contended that the state statute governing competency was unconstitutionally flawed and that the medical examiner’s testimony was dubious.
At a competency hearing, Basso was wheeled into the courtroom from a hospital bed and spoke about the snake smuggled into a prison hospital in an assassination attempt, and reported that her paralysis was the result of a jail beating years ago. She also acknowledged that previous claims made about her identity (being a triplet, dating Norman Rockefeller) were untrue. While her testimony wasn’t exactly what you’d call reliable, Basso’s behavior was certainly bizarre, and a state judge ruled last month that her history of fabricating stories was attention-seeking. The judge ruled that her manipulation of psychological tests precluded an undeniable status of incompetent while Basso’s attorney insisted that an expert’s opinion was that additional testing over time would provide a more reliable evaluation and delay her execution.
San Antonio attorneys and Texas attorneys keeping an eye on the case saw that Basso’s appeal was refused by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and a federal judge. The appeal was also rejected by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. At her trial 15 years ago, Basso was portrayed as a ringleader in the torture and murder of a mentally impaired 58-year-old man, but of the five women convicted for his death, prosecutors sought the death penalty only for Basso. In the past, in Texas, capital punishment could be a sentence for piracy, cattle rustling, treason, desertion and rape. Under current state law, San Antonio attorneys and other Texas prosecutors can pursue the death penalty for capital murder and capital sabotage or a second conviction for the aggravated sexual assault of someone under age 14. Female death row inmates are currently held at Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. All eight of them.