Page 36


get him committed for mental care. At one point, Larry spent six months in jail because his parents could not find a hospital to admit him. Larry himself, in his more desperately lucid moments, begged them to help him. Again and again the Robisons were told, “He’s not on your insurance … he doesn’t have his own … we can’t commit him for more than thirty days… he’s not your problem … and he’s never been violent. Unless he does something violent, there’s nothing we can do.” On the bloody night of August 10, 1982, Larry Robison finally gave the state of Texas something to do. While in police custody, he tried to help the state along two serious and almost successful attempts at suicide but was revived from a coma to begin the death watch that will likely conclude this month. Even after Larry’s conviction, evidence of his insanity continued to accumulate. It was discovered that several of his relatives suffered from similar illnesses confirming the diagnosis of schizophrenia, a congenital disease although out of shame, family members had hidden the knowledge. His natural father had died of a brain tumor when Larry was two; a few years after his conviction, Larry’s younger sister also became ill, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her prospects are better, says her mother. It took seven years of fighting for treatment, but when mental health administrators tried to turn her away, Lois Robison, would deliver a “three-minute version” of her son’s story, and they eventually found a way to place her daughter in a residential program where she receives excellent care. Iois Robison recites her son’s harrowing story quietly, without hesita_,Ajtion, although with the execution date so near, her voice occasionally breaks. She and her husband, both teachers, have made a small crusade of defending their son’s life, personally and through their work with Texas CURE, an organization devoted to better treatment for prison inmates. “Texas doesn’t take care of its mentally ill,” she says. “A lot of states don’t, but most all of them in the nation take better care of them than Texas does…. They don’t want to put out the money to do preventative treatment. They’d rather spend the money on executions.” In Larry’s case, that seems quite literally true. One can only imagine what the two million dollars spent on the average capital murder case times 180 might have done for the mentally ill in Texas since 1982. Larry Robison’s case is certainly horrible, but is it exceptional? Only in degree. Based on her work with inmates’ families, Lois Robison says, “We’re not the only ones this has happened to. It’s happened to I don’t know how many people before.” At this writing, in addition to Larry Robison, there are five Texas death row inmates scheduled to die in August \(some may be mates exhibit evidence of severe mental illness and/or retardation. Recently Lois Robison told a brief version of her son’s story to a meeting of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Some members seemed interested, she said, and two even thanked her for her testimony. “It should never have come to this,” said Lois. “If we had been able to get him the treatment that we begged for, and he begged for, then these people wouldn’t have died. It’s basically down to mercy.” In a few days, the board members will be receiving Larry Robison’s final petition for clemency, which they can recommend to Governor Bush. Larry’s mother says she still has hope. Governor Bush has the authority to order one thirty-day stay of execution. The Board can urge the Governor to grant clemency. One can only hope that Lois Robison is right. Perhaps the Board and the Governor will choose compassion and reason over ideology and political expediency. Based on the record of the Board, this Governor, and the state of Texas, there is little reason to think so. M.K. VOLUME 91, NO. 14 A JOURNAL OF FREE VOICES SINCE 1954 Editors: Louis Dubose, Michael King Assistant Editor: Mimi Bardagjy Associate Editor: Karen Olsson Office Manager: Ayelet Hines Production: Harrison Saunders Poetry Editor: Naomi Shihab Nye Staff Writer: Nate Blakeslee Special Projects: Jere Locke, Nancy Williams Webmaster: Mike Smith Interns: Julie Hollar, Carol Huggins Contributing Writers: Barbara Belejack, Robert Bryce, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Paul Jennings, Steven G. Kellman, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, John Ross. Staff Photographer: Alan Pogue Contributing Photographers: Jana Birchum, Vic Hinterlang, Patricia Moore, Jack Rehm. Contributing Artists: Jeff Danziger, Beth Epstein, Valerie Fowler, Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Ben Sargent, Gail Woods. Editorial Advisory Board: David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Bob Eckhardt, Sissy Farenthold, John Kenneth Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Maury Maverick Jr., Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. In Memoriam: Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board: Ronnie Dugger, Liz Faulk, D’Ann Johnson Geoffrey Rips, Gilberto Ocafias. The Texas Observer \(ISSN 0040righted, 1999, is published biweekly except for a four-week interval between issues in January and July \(24 issues per 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone: E-mail: [email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page: . Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin, Texas. Subscriptions: One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13/year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes: The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 6, 1999