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GRIGSON, JAMES PAUL, JR.

Kathy Tran
James Paul Grigson, Jr.
James Paul Grigson, Jr. (1932–2004). Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

GRIGSON, JAMES PAUL, JR. (1932–2004). James Paul Grigson, Jr., forensic psychiatrist, professor of psychiatry, and controversial testifying expert in capital murder cases, was born in Texarkana, Bowie County, Texas, on January 30, 1932, to James Paul Grigson, Sr., and Ethel Mae (McLeod) Grigson. Grigson and his younger brother, Robert, were raised in Texarkana, Texas. He completed his formative education at Texas High School where he was well-liked and respected by his peers and dubbed the “Best All-Around Boy” in 1949 in the high school yearbook. Following high school graduation, Grigson attended Texarkana Community College for two years before transferring to Texas A& M University to complete his bachelor’s degree. He received his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Grigson pursued a residency in forensic psychiatry at Southwestern, and in 1961 he examined his first criminal defendant. In 1963 he received his first court appointment at the Dallas County courthouse while working full-time as a professor of psychiatry at Southwestern, where he taught for four years.


In 1967 Grigson entered private practice. Over time, he focused less on his private practice and more on his criminal caseload. Initially, much of his work addressed the issues related to a criminal defendant’s competency to stand trial. This focus gradually shifted towards testifying as an expert witness in capital murder cases. Grigson served in this capacity in more than 150 death penalty cases during his career of more than four decades. Throughout these cases he continually testified against the capital murder defendant. He described many defendants as incurable sociopaths who would continue their previous criminal behaviors if given the opportunity to do so. Grigson was prolific in his expertise and established a reputation for swaying the jury ruling in favor of the death penalty. This led to the media nicknaming him “Dr. Death.”


Opinions regarding Grigson’s methods were highly divisive. A feature in the June 17, 2004, issue of the Houston Chronicle described him during his work in the 1980s and early 1990s as being “praised, reviled, criticized, reprimanded and relied on as no other forensic psychiatrist in state history.” In the capital murder case of Ernest Benjamin Smith (1974), Grigson was accused of using the results of Smith’s competency exam against him in the sentencing phase of his trial. Smith was not aware that Grigson’s examination concerned anything more than his competence to stand trial or that the examination could be used as evidence against him. This case resulted in an important U.S Supreme Court Decision. The court in Estelle v. Smith (1981), declared that Grigson’s testimony in Smith’s case violated the defendant’s rights and ruled that a psychiatrist could not examine a defendant without their consent. Any information obtained from the interview would not be admissible at trial unless the defendant was warned beforehand.


Grigson’s tendency to make absolute judgments regarding the “future dangerousness” of a defendant was heavily scrutinized by psychiatric professionals and organizations. He was reprimanded twice by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)—once for using Smith’s competency examination against him and the other for claiming that he had a 100 percent accuracy in predicting how dangerous a defendant would be in the future. In their amicus curiae brief submitted to the U. S. Supreme Court for the case of Barefoot v. Estelle (1983), the APA asserted that such predictions on the long-term future dangerousness were unreliable and beyond what science can purport to know.


In 1989 Grigson’s reputation came under additional scrutiny when Randall Dale Adams, a man he had previously testified against, was exonerated of his crime. In 1976 Adams was accused of murdering a Dallas police officer and was subsequently convicted and sentenced the death penalty. Grigson testified that Adams was an extreme sociopath who would kill again unless executed despite Adams’s lack of a criminal record. All charges were eventually dropped for Adams when another man recanted his testimony regarding Adams’s guilt. The case for Adams’s innocence as well as factors of perjury, mistaken identity, and misconduct that led to his conviction were outlined in the documentary film The Thin Blue Line (1988). Consequently, the APA expelled Grigson from the organization in 1995.  He was also expelled by the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians. As a result of this controversy and as calls for his testimony for criminal cases diminished, Grigson focused on civil law cases for the remainder of his career. He retired from practice in 2003.


James Paul Grigson married Mary Lee Stone on February 1, 1953. They had four children before divorcing in 1972. Grigson married Vicki ¬¬¬¬Lee Lewis on June 30, 1989. The couple divorced in 1990 and had no children. Grigson died of lung cancer on June 3, 2004, in Dallas, Texas. He was buried in Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Dallas Morning News, August 16, 1981; July 26, 1995; June 7, 2004. Houston Chronicle, June 17, 2004. New York Times, June 10, 1988. Washington Post, February 27, 1981. Washington Times, December 20, 2003.

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Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Kathy Tran, "GRIGSON, JAMES PAUL, JR. ," accessed July 16, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgrjp.

Uploaded on April 7, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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