ST. JOSEPH COUNTY (Nov. 20, 2014) – A judge ruled that the man convicted in the 1997 rape and murder of a Franklin College student is not competent to be executed.
Judge Jane Woodward Miller issued a stay that will spare Michael Dean Overstreet from execution, our media partners at the IndyStar report.
Overstreet was convicted in the 1997 murder of Kelly Eckart, 18, a Franklin College student who was driving home from her job at Walmart when she encountered Overstreet.
Her body was found in a wooded area in Brown County. DNA evidence linked Overstreet to the crime, and he was convicted in 2000.
Lawyers for Overstreet argued he is delusional and doesn’t understand the circumstances. The Attorney General’s Office argued that Overstreet does indeed have a mental illness but understands he would be executed because of his crime.
Both sides made their case during a four-day hearing in September. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed a ruling that death row inmates who are mentally ill can’t be put to death if they’re incapable of rationally understanding what execution means and why they’re being executed.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, this week’s ruling means Overstreet’s conviction and death sentence remain valid. The death sentence, however, cannot be carried out until and unless Overstreet becomes competent.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued the following statement about the ruling:
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Kelly Eckart who have endured many years of uncertainty in our criminal justice system. We respect the appeals process that includes procedural safeguards for the defendant and the difficult decisions our judges face in this area of the law, but our focus will continue to be on honoring the victims of all such crimes.”
The Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the ruling and will make a decision about an appeal at a later date.
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