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Defense: SD bars death sentence for mentally ill

James McVay (left) appears with a public defender during an initial appearance before Court Commissioner Todd Meurer at the Dane County Public Safety Building in Madison on July 7. Attorneys for McVay are saying South Dakota law does not allow for the execution of a mentally ill inmate. (AP File Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) – Defense lawyers for a man who admitting killing a 75-year-old Sioux Falls woman in her home last summer contend South Dakota law does not allow for the execution of a mentally ill inmate.

The attorneys for James McVay, 42, made the argument in motions filed in advance of his June 27 sentencing. Prosecutors have said they plan to seek the death penalty.

“The only sentence that can be imposed by a court under South Dakota law and the United States Constitution … is life without parole,” the brief states.

Prosecutors did not immediately file response briefs. Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan would not comment specifically on the motion, telling the Argus Leader newspaper only that the defense had filed “numerous motions that we disagree with.”

McVay pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the July 2, 2011, death of Maybelle Schein. Police said McVay entered her home, woke her up, cut her throat and stole her car in an unsuccessful scheme to drive to Washington, D.C., and assassinate President Barack Obama while he golfed. He was arrested the same day in Wisconsin, and later charged with first-degree murder and burglary.

The case raises questions about the appropriate application of the death penalty for those diagnosed with mental illness. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a person diagnosed as “insane” cannot be executed, but mental illness is viewed differently.

“The court has not said mental illness is something that bars a death sentence, but they have said it’s something that should be considered,” said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Information from: Argus Leader,

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