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Lawyers Try To Fight Death Penalty With New PTSD Understanding


No one disputes that Andrew Brannan murdered Deputy Sheriff Kyle Dinkheller in 1998. A police dashboard video chronicled the entire scene. But Brennan's lawyers say that the Vietnam War veteran was mentally ill and suffering a flashback from combat when he killed the deputy. They hope that that will be enough to get Brannan's death sentence commuted before next Tuesday, when Brannan is scheduled to die by lethal injection. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Deputy Sheriff Kyle Dinkheller was just 22 years old, married with a child and another on the way on January 12, 1998. He pulled over a pickup truck that was going 98 miles per hour down a country road in Georgia. The dashboard camera was rolling.


KYLE DINKHELLER: How are you doing today?

ANDREW BRANNAN: I'm doing good. How are you doing?

DINKHELLER: Good. Come on back here, and keep your hands out of your pockets.

LAWRENCE: And white-haired man, Andrew Brannan, gets out of the truck. The man goes from calm to erratic. He dances in the street and shouts, here I am; shoot me. Then, Brannan rushes the cop. They scuffle, and Brannan runs back to his truck and gets an assault rifle.


DINKHELLER: (Yelling) Put the gun down. Put it down now.

LAWRENCE: Deputy Dinkheller shouts repeatedly at Brannan to drop the gun.


DINKHELLER: (Yelling) Put the gun down.

LAWRENCE: The video keeps running. There's an exchange of gunfire. Dinkheller screams as Brannan shoots him nine times. Brannan was sentenced to death in January, 2000. The sheriff in Laurens County, Georgia now is Bill Harrell. He says the execution next week will finally bring closure for the family and the police department.

BILL HARRELL: Some folks would say he needs to be in prison the rest of his life. Other folks say he needs to lose his life - eye for an eye, like the bible says. But the thing about it - the people in the state of Georgia went though the proper procedures for court, and they deemed that he needed to be put to death. And I feel like that's what needed to go forward.

LAWRENCE: Andrew Brannan pleaded insanity at his trial. He claimed he had been having a flashback to combat, but the jury rejected that. His appeals have failed up to the U.S. Supreme Court. But his new lawyer, Joe Loveland, says that after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's a different understanding of PTSD and how some people might be damaged by war.

JOE LOVELAND: The video recording speaks volumes for the erratic behavior, the irrational behavior of Andrew at the time. It's there for everyone to see.

LAWRENCE: Loveland is representing Brannan on his final appeal to the Georgia parole board. He says the sentencing jury never heard that, at the time of the murder, Brannan was off his medications for bipolar disorder and PTSD.

LOVELAND: There was a direct connection between his service in Vietnam and the violence that he was exposed to there and the ultimate events that occurred here.

LAWRENCE: Brannan served as an artillery forward observer. He earned a Bronze Star among other medals, and twice had to take charge of the unit because his company commander was lost. His lawyer says Brannan has shown remorse and should have his sentence changed to life in prison.

LOVELAND: The basic question really is, should a 66-year-old Vietnam War veteran with no prior criminal record and who was 100 percent disabled under the DA standards, both with PTSD and bipolar disorder, at the time of the murder of the deputy sheriff - should that person be executed?

LAWRENCE: NPR left messages for members of Deputy Kyle Dinkheller's family. We didn't hear back. But Kirk Dinkheller, the deputy's father, posted on Facebook, nothing will ever bring my son back. But, finally, some justice for the one who took him from his children and his family. Barring action by the parole board, Andrew Brannan will be put to death by lethal injection next Tuesday, 17 years and a day after he killed Kyle Dinkheller. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.
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