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Inmate in court to argue for his prompt execution

(AP) — A condemned Virginia inmate who strangled two prisoners and vowed to keep killing unless given the death penalty is fighting his former attorneys for the right to be executed next week.

A federal judge in Roanoke on Monday gave attorneys until Wednesday to present evidence on their claims that Robert Gleason Jr., 42, was not competent to waive his appeals and that his condition had worsened due to his solitary confinement on death row. The attorneys previously were appointed to represent Gleason on his appeal, but Gleason refused to fight his sentence.

Gleason is scheduled to be executed Jan. 16.

Capital defender Jon Sheldon argued in a motion filed late last month that he and two other attorneys should be appointed to Gleason’s case and allowed to order a mental health evaluation. They claim he has become depressed and delusional, is paranoid and severely anxious, among other afflictions.

“…if Mr. Gleason is competent and doesn’t want counsel, that’s his right,” Sheldon told a judge on Friday, according to a court transcript. “But we have represented Mr. Gleason for some time now … and we have substantial and serious concerns about his competency.”

In a rare move, Gleason appeared in court on Friday to argue alongside state prosecutors that he should be executed.

“This is just a ploy to stretch this out, either to line his pockets or his conscience about someone being executed,” Gleason said of Sheldon’s claims. He added: “I deserve this. I’ve hurt people.”

Gleason was serving life in prison for killing a man when he strangled his cellmate in 2009 and kept his body hidden from corrections officers for 15 hours. In an interview with The Associated Press after the murder and again in court, Gleason vowed to keep killing unless given the death penalty. He strangled another inmate through a separate chain-link recreation cage in 2010 while awaiting sentencing at the state’s highest security prison.

Assistant Attorney General Katherine Burnett argued that Gleason is simply being uncooperative, not incompetent.

“All he has ever done is consistently and persistently attempted to have his execution date set and have punishment carried out, and that does not demonstrate incompetence,” Burnett argued.

Two previous evaluations have deemed Gleason competent to plead guilty and to waive his appeals. Sheldon argued Gleason’s mental health has deteriorated since then, amplified by 15 months in isolation on death row.

Sheldon also argues that the evaluations do not include information about a previous suicide attempt, but Gleason countered the overdose was an accident when he took too many of his friend’s pills —not a suicide attempt.

“Please don’t do this to my family,” Gleason said of postponing his execution date. “They need time to heal.”

In granting Sheldon’s motion on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Glen Conrad said he was allowing the extra evidence “in an abundance of caution.” But Conrad earlier had said the previous evaluations must be given great weight.

Gleason has told AP he wants to die by electrocution. Virginia inmates can choose between electrocution and lethal injection.

- By Dena Potter

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