A man sentenced to execution in 1997 has been granted a new hearing by the Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday, September 4, 2013, according to the Indianapolis Star.
The court ordered on Tuesday that Michael Dean Overstreet, who was convicted and sentenced to death in the killing of Franklin College student, Kelly Eckart, 18, in 1997, will have a new hearing based on new claims made by Overstreet's attorney and a psychiatrist. This new hearing, however, will be solely on the matter of whether he should be executed.
Eckart, a Franklin College student at the time of her death, was abducted, raped and murdered in 1997. Overstreet was found guilty and sentenced to death in May 2000 and has been on Indiana's Death Row.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Overstreet's attorney and psychiatrist claim that he "does not have, and does not have the ability to produce, a rational understanding of why the State of Indiana plans to execute him."
Under the U.S. Constitution, the Eighth Amendment prohibits the state from executing a person who his deemed insane. His attorneys argue that if the person is "unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer or why they are to suffer it" and are unable to understand the link between a crime and its punishment is so far removed from reality that he should be deemed insane. Previous court rulings support this argument.
The court has given the Johnson Superior Court a deadline of March 3 to provide a final judgment on these claims. Overstreet's conviction has been appealed previously and upheld, so this deadline is only to determine whether his original sentence will be enforced.
Eckart was abducted and killed on September 26, 1997, shortly after leaving her job at a Franklin Wal-Mart, according to the Indianapolis Star. Her body was found in a ravine in Brown County, and police found she had been strangled and shot in the forehead. DNA evidence linked Overstreet to the crime, and fibers from a blanket that Overstreet was later seen carrying just hours after her abduction and was used to wrap her body were found on Overstreet's shirt. A hand-drawn map of the location of her body was also found at Overstreet's home.
A rehearing date has not been set, but a deadline has been given of March 3, 2014.